Interview with Honey Thaljieh, Captain of Palestine Women’s National Football Team (by Hanny Lee)
How was the Palestine Women’s National Football Team formed, and how were players selected? Were there any tryout and selection rounds?
At the beginning, the idea of forming a women’s soccer team was very difficult, because of many aspects. The first one is the Occupation and its effects on the community, the second one is the patriarchal society who do not believe in equality between men and women, and the third one is the bad infrastructure that Palestine has and finally, people’s belief that soccer is only created for men and not women.
[Amidst] all these challenges and obstacles, an idea raised in a strong woman’s mind, by the name of Samar Araj (head of the sports department at Bethlehem University where I actually studied).
When I was young I had a hobby and was very talented in it which is football. I used to play in the streets with my neighbors and brothers, not caring about what people will say or how they would look at me. When I was in school, I was playing football all the time with my classmates and was the only girl who dared to do this. I was not accepted by my female classmates, because they kept telling me “this game is not for you.” Not only did I face their objection but also from the neighborhood, family and people around me, and as you know, here, people talk a lot. They kept coming to my parents telling them “how can you allow her to play football, she is a female! Her body will become tough and she will be looking like boys.” Then my parents started to put pressure on me not to play not only because of people’s rumors, but their main concern was who would support me if I got injured. I didn’t care about any of the obstacles and I decided to move on, because I believed I was doing something unique in the community and I always looked for uniqueness.
I grew up and went to the University I read about in an advertisement asking girls interested in football to come to the Sports Department. Actually, I ran over there and met Samar Araj, and she told me I was the first woman asking about joining. The advertisement had been hanging on the board for a long time but nobody cared. I told her I wanted to start from “this moment.” And the story began here, I was the first female player in Palestine, no women’s football was before me. No teams and of course no leagues, not even a national team.
We started to gather female athletes from different places, some of the girls were basketball players, others played volleyball, and so we collected five to start with. We started practicing on hard concrete playgrounds, and when the press heard about us people started coming for interviews, documentary films, and began writing articles about us, and thus, my team started to become well know both locally and on an international level.
The FIFA also heard about us and they asked the Palestine Football Federation (PFA) to adopt us. From hereon, we started as a national team before playing in leagues.
Interested girls heard about us from different areas in Palestine, mainly from Ramallah, Jerusalem, Jericho and even GAZA. We started to gather to play and later we received the first Invitation from AMMAN to participate in an Arab tournament which was at the end of April that same year.
I watched a short news clip from 2006 and found out the team could only practice on the hard concrete at the Bethlehem University. How often were trainings scheduled? And does the team still practice on the hard concrete? If yes, why?
Yes, we used to play on hard concrete because we lack infrastructure, and until today we barely get to practice on grass fields. We only have one in the area and its artificial, not real. And they give the men’s teams the priority to play on it rather than girls. We train three time per week and when we have tournaments or any form of participation on international levels, we start to train almost everyday.
Your family is very supportive towards your career. When did you start playing football? Are there any other players who have a hard time convincing their parents to let them join the team?
As I mentioned before, we do have lots of girls who faced difficulties convincing their families, but in the end almost all families accepted the idea and they are actually very proud of their daughters.