Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Virginia R. Dominguez
High among the mountains and olive groves of Israel's Western Galilee, a group of Palestinian women regularly meet to do something unexpected. They play soccer. In Israel. Banat Sakhnin is the only Palestinian women's soccer team in the Israeli league. The players, coaches, and manager are Israeli citizens, but represent a minority within the Jewish state. As such, the women who play for Banat Sakhnin face challenges from multiple sides. This dissertation argues that Palestinian women's access to soccer in Israel is intimately tied to complex and contradictory community and national ideas about Palestinian-ness. Women's participation in an overtly physical activity puts their bodies on public display to be symbolically constituted as versions of "Palestinians," "Israelis," or an amalgamation of both. Additionally, soccer's reputation as a male sport in Israel further complicates women's access to it as players or as fans.
This dissertation is based on intensive field research conducted from January 2006-December 2007. The interviews, stories, archival research, newspaper articles, and personal experience I collected revealed a complex picture of what life might be like for young Palestinian women who play soccer in Israel. I found that soccer players face limitations placed upon them by their coach and manager in the form of protectiveness and monitoring of their "propriety." I found that they face limitations from their families and communities who view soccer as a "hobby" that should end when the players marry. The team itself faces financial difficulties, because of a lack of popular interest in women's soccer, and a lack of commitment by the governing bodies of soccer in Israel. Yet, the players are not fully passive, and find ways to pursue their own goals around these structural and cultural limitations. This research contributes to the anthropology of women and power in the Middle East and the sociology and anthropology of soccer. Scholarship on women's soccer in the Middle East has focused on women's role in Islam. I suggest that this focus overshadows other gendered, cultural, and political barriers faced by women in Middle Eastern countries. The story of Banat Sakhnin adds to research about women's lives in the Middle East and Israel, because it focuses on female athletes playing a sport perceived to belong to the realm of men. It explores the ways in which the players' transgression of this gendered norm shapes and transforms other kinds of ideas about "Palestinian-ness" and "womanhood" in Israel.
Copyright 2012 Kenda Stewart