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Palestinian Motor Sports and Motorcycle Federation
submitted by This Week In Palestine

Palestinian Grand Prix?

Imagine a thousand young Palestinians converging on a square to watch nearly 40 men and women driving their cars one after the other around a homemade track to see who is the fastest. The crowd is roaring, music is blaring, and you’re wondering if you’ll be that one unlucky person who gets hit by a car spinning out of control. Yes, at best you’re probably thinking of a horrendously chaotic spectacle that will end with several crashes, injuries, and even worse.

But that was far from the case a few weeks ago in Bethlehem when the city hosted the “Wataniya Mobile” Car Racing Championship. Not only was the race held with a remarkable high standard of safety, but the organisers did such a good job that the race ended an hour and a half ahead of schedule - a unique occurrence in Palestine!

The concept of the race is relatively simple. Each driver has two chances to finish the track as fast as possible. Depending on the location, it takes most drivers between one and two minutes to complete the looping track, which is marked by tires and cones. The top-ten fastest cars then duke it out in a final round demonstrating impressive control of their cars as they donut and zigzag around the track with their tires smoking and brakes screeching. At the end, the fastest driver is declared the champion, given a trophy, and hoisted aloft by the loud excited crowd.

The race in Bethlehem was not the first of its kind in Palestine. In fact, this was the second round of the fourth season of the Palestinian Car Racing Championship, which is organised by the Palestinian Motor Sports and Motorcycle Federation (PMSMF).

Each season consists of five rounds that take place two to three months apart, each in a different Palestinian city. During the championship’s first three years, the rounds took place in Bethlehem, Jericho, and Ramallah. This year, however, the Federation decided to take the race to other Palestinian cities and has already held the opening round of this season in Hebron, where the event drew a crowd of more than 4,000 spectators. It plans to hold the next round in Nablus, where many of the drivers come from.

The championship is the brainchild of Khaled Qadura who formed the PMSMF back in 2004 and is today the Federation’s chairman. Qadura seems to be involved in almost every aspect of the race from securing sponsorships and managing publicity campaigns to acting as the MC at each event to pump up the crowd each time a car appears at the start line with engine revving.

But Qadura is not alone. Where there is Qadura, there is his small army of volunteers as well as the confident and efficient Midhat Hanna, an apt technical manager who is in charge of designing each track and ensuring that all drivers adhere to strict safety guidelines, a job which he has excelled at.

With every new season the Federation improves its performance, and today it enjoys support for the sport from the highest levels of government, including the president of Palestine. Each round is opened by the governor and/or the mayor of the city in which the race is taking place. The Federation is also supported the police and the presidential guard who are present at each race to prevent the large crowds from entering the track and getting in harm’s way. In previous years the championship was sponsored by a number of different companies but this year the Federation secured the sole sponsorship of the entire 2008 season by Wataniya Mobile - the new mobile network in Palestine.

Now the championship has a large following, and several of the participating drivers are regulars who have been taking part in almost every race since the championship was created. Most of them have some form of sponsorship and demonstrate a unique dedication to the sport with specialized cars that are customized specifically for the race. Perhaps the most interesting fact about the drivers is that three of the regulars are women.

The Federation is not satisfied with just holding local races but has set its goals high as it seeks to represent Palestine in international car-racing events - mostly in Jordan and Egypt.

The Federation is proud of the fact that Palestinian drivers have participated in five international events during the last four years. Most notably, a number of Palestinian drivers took part in an international carting championship in Sharm El Sheikh last year, winning the first and second positions in that event.

As it looks toward the future, the Federation is setting even higher goals with a plan to build a permanent and professional racetrack in Palestine. President Mahmoud Abbas has already pledged to allocate 30 dunums of public land in Jericho for the Federation to build this track.

Despite the difficult economic and political conditions in our country, motor sports have proven against the odds to be an exceptionally popular and promising sport. Who knows, maybe one day we will see a Palestinian Lewis Hamilton representing our country in Formula One, or maybe we will have our own F1 Grand Prix right here in Palestine!

This Week in Palestine
June 2008

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