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The women are the first in years to pedal publicly in Gaza, where Hamas has restricted women’s sports, and they have shocked conservative Palestinians. (Wissam Nassar/The New York Times)

Like riding a bike

4 Palestinian women pedal in defiance of extremism, first in years to cycle in public

By WITW Staff on February 24, 2016

In Gaza, life under the rule of Hamas has become increasingly prohibitive for women over the last decade. The Islamist extremist group has worked to force women out of being involved in sporting activities. In 2013, the group barred women from taking part in the marathon, which led to the event’s cancellation. In fact, there’s an unwritten social rule that bars women who’ve gone through puberty from riding bicycles. In 2010, when a journalist from Gaza and her friends rode bikes in public, they were threatened and spit upon by angry harassers. In general, Palestinians believe that women riding bikes in public is inconsistent with their cultural values.

Amna Suleiman and her friend Asala take a break from cycling in the northern Gaza Strip, Feb. 19, 2016. (Wissam Nassar/The New York Times)
Amna Suleiman and her friend Asala take a break from cycling in the northern Gaza Strip, Feb. 19, 2016. (Wissam Nassar/The New York Times)

Which makes the sight of four women riding through Gaza on their bicycles such an unusual, and liberating, occurrence there. The quartet began riding together in December, making them the first women in years to publicly ride bicycles in Gaza. The group is led by 33-year-old Amna Suleiman, who grew up in Damascus, Syria, where she biked often as a child. She said she took up bike-riding once again partly due to a bet she found herself involved in, and because “I wanted to remind myself of my childhood, which was without problems.” Suleiman recruited her friends to join her and, when they go out they’re often verbally accosted and tormented, but resolute that they will continued to ride bikes. “I feel free,” says Sara Salibi, 24 of riding a bike in public. Suleiman’s friends are younger, and in the presence of a news reporter, she gives them some sage-like, if not amusing, recommendation about what lies ahead for them and their lives on two wheels. “Listen, girls, there’s nothing left in my orchard except firewood,” Suleiman tells her friends, repeating a common a Palestinian expression for being a spinster. “But you are young. I want you, when you get married, to make riding your bikes a condition of marriage.”

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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