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When Hanine first whistled for a men’s soccer game, Hanine was overcome with fear, but her anxiety soon gave way to the motivation to become a rare female Palestinian referee in international football.

Wearing a neon yellow jersey with a Palestinian flag on her sleeve, Abu Mariam recently walked the sidelines of the synthetic turf pitch in Al-Ram, a city between Jerusalem and Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

The 21-year-old said her interest in football began while studying sports at university, where she discovered a penchant for leading.

Shortly after graduation, she became one of only two women to compete in the top Palestinian women’s league and the third division men’s referees.

“At first I was afraid to make a mistake, but the referee and other male colleagues helped me,” she told AFP.

Before each match, she diligently listens to the head referee’s pregame briefing before stalking on the sidelines for 90 minutes, armed with her yellow and red checkered flag.

She currently works about seven games a month for $ 30 each, the same amount as her male colleagues.

– ‘We trust them completely’ –

When the Palestinian Football Association first allowed women to lead matches four years ago, there was backlash from conservative Muslim clerics.

Abu Mariam said her family, who live in the small village of Burham in the West Bank, helped her keep going.

“My family has always helped and encouraged me,” said the young referee wearing a headscarf and long black sleeves under her jersey.

The league’s chief referee, Ibrahim Ghrouf, said 30 women are currently being trained to act as match officials.

‘We trust them completely, of course. Female referees can get the job done. ‘

The new interns follow in the footsteps of Hiba Saadia, the first Palestinian woman to referee international women’s matches, and Yasmine Nirokh, who is active in international football.

Abu Mariam said she would like to work in the world’s most iconic stadiums.

“I dream of being a famous referee and I hope to reach an international level, but as an assistant referee,” she said with a shy smile.

he-cgo / bs / sw

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