[Boycott - Sports]
IDF checkpoints force Palestinian rally drivers to race indoors
6 April 2008
Palestinian rally drivers, unable to fully show their skills on open roads because of Israel Defense Forces roadblocks, sought to promote motor sports in the West Bank by staging indoor races.
"It's hard to drive fast around the West Bank," said Jamal Tofaha on Sunday, revving his engine before the start of indoor speed tests for modified street cars near the city of Hebron.
A 3,000-strong crowd cheered 38 rally drivers from around the West Bank at a makeshift racing circuit in a converted hangar filled with smoke from screeching tires.
"We are here to challenge the occupation and to advertise a sport which requires lots of open space," said Tofaha, who won the 2006 Palestinian rally held within the city limits of Jericho.
Israel has built hundreds of checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank, home to 2.5 million Palestinians in an attempt to prevent suicide bombers from reaching its cities.
Palestinians call the travel restrictions collective punishment. A Palestinian telecommunications company sponsored the Hebron event, deciding to hold races in different West Bank cities rather than try to chart a course across the checkpoint-filled territory.
"This is a new way to challenge (IDF) closures," said Medhat Hana, head of the organizing committee. "We can't hold rallies, so we are holding speed tests," he said.
Sonia Awida, a female driver from Jerusalem, said she hoped the sport would gain appeal locally and that she could represent Palestinians in international races.
"Our resources are low, but my dream is to raise the Palestinian flag (in a race) somewhere outside Palestine," she said.
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