During two-weeks, between October and November 2014, the English amateur women’s teams of Easton Cowgirls, Bristol, and Republica Internationale, Leeds, visited cities around the Hebron, in the southern West Bank, and Al-Ram, to build solidarity with Palestinian women and better understand life under occupation.
“It was a tough experience emotionally” said the UK teams’ captain Chrissie.
“We met families who had just had their houses knocked down, we witnessed total apartheid, but equally we were so warmly welcomed and met some amazing people.” she added.
The cultural exchange
The tour to Palestine comes four years after the men’s teams of Republica and the Easton Cowboys visited Palestine in a similar cultural and football exchange.
Hosted by the Hebron International Resource Center, in Hebron, the teams visited the village of Umm al-Kheir, where in 2010 the men’s teams played one of their matches.
In Umm al-Kheir the teams witnessed the demolition of five houses of local families by Israeli settlements.
“It was more profound that we arrived on the afternoon after the demolition” said Claire, a player of the UK team.
“Many of the villages in that area are quite conservative so we knew that we would not have a chance of playing a game, but even that we were known as a women’s football team who came and helped clear rubble for an afternoon spread a positive message about women playing football.” she added.
Among other projects visited in the area was also the Hebron Women’s Cooperative, a women’s co-operative that employs 120 women allowing them an income by selling traditional embroidery and needlework.
The football experience
The teams’ their first match was played against the Palestine national U19 women’s team at the Faisal Al-Husseini International Stadium, in Al-Ram, where they lost 5-1.
On their second encounter, against the Hebron University Women, who had never played a competitive game before, the experience was different. The match was held behind closed doors, with no cameras or men allowed in the facilities, due to more conservative religious beliefs.
The final game of the tour was played against Bethlehem Diyar, a team who have regularly won the Palestinian women’s national league.
“They had a number of players from the women’s national team and they were great” explained Sarah, another UK team’s player.
“But it was never going to be about winning, what struck me most was chatting with one of players after, she explained that she had been inspired to take up football seriously in 2001 when her cousin, who she first played football with as a child, was shot dead in his house by Israeli soldiers.”
‘Freedom through football’
During their stay in Palestine, the Easton Cowgirls and Republica also wrote a message on Israel’s separation wall reading “Freedom Through Football”, along with the words “We will share your
The story of tour and the teams’ experience will be shared in a documentary to be launched in early 2015.
“I think we all knew before we went out there that the only thing we would change would be ourselves” said Chrissie.
“But the one thing that we can do, and that we are doing, is to speak to everyone we can about everything we experienced.”