Although Arab athletes were absent this year as in the past from Israel's delegation at the Olympic Games, there are quite a few talented sports figures in the country's Arab-Palestinian community who are fast becoming local role models. Hamama Jarban, a 42-year-old native and resident of the seaside town of Jisr al-Zarqa in northern Israel, is one of those role models – and she has now also become another sort of model as well, after being hired to star in a new Adidas Israel campaign for modest swimwear.
Jarban has been involved in professional and amateur sports for many years. The veteran fisherwoman, lifeguard, surfer and former professional soccer player studied at the Wingate Institute for Physical Education and Sports, but was mentioned in headlines mainly after she was recruited to search for Ayman Safiah, the internationally renowned dancer who drowned in the Mediterranean in May 2020, and whose life and death moved many people.
In the wake of her participation in the search, Jarban has become a feminist icon on social media. She's also found herself at the heart of a battle to prevent the demolition of the fishing village adjacent to Jisr al-Zarqa, which also includes her own fishing warehouse. Today Jarban continues to teach surfing to young people and works to promote Israeli Arab girls' and women’s participation in the sport.
Earlier this month a new campaign by Adidas Israel for modest swimwear appeared on social networks, as part of an international effort to publicize the collection – and Jarban was chosen to lead it.
“This is a collection designed to provide a solution for a traditional target audience," says Tomer Cohen, director of brand at the company, adding, "at Adidas Israel we have created a video that addresses the local culture and presents stories of strong women who have chosen to fulfill themselves in their own unique way. Hamama Jarban was chosen to lead this local campaign as an outstanding example of self-fulfillment.”
The campaign itself was produced by a Netanya-based advertising and PR agency named Sectors Albustani, which specializes in the Arab community. CEO Adham Hassadiyeh explains that “Hamama Jarban was chosen thanks to her personal story and her success in developing the field of surfing in the community and making it accessible to women. The campaign also promotes a healthy perception of the body. Sports are not limited to professional female models alone.”
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Of course Adidas is not the first or only commercial entity that's trying to sell modest swimwear locally or globally to the Muslim community, where many women refrain from wearing revealing bathing suits. Many companies now see a potential in such a clientele, which is usually excluded from the large sportswear chains. Although the modest styles are not always received enthusiastically, the big brands are continuing to introduce them. For example, in 2019 Nike launched a collection of modest swimwear featuring a hijab/hoodie, also using inspiring role models from Arab communities.
The new campaign starring Jarban was shot in her hometown. “It was important to me for the pictures to be taken in Jisr. In the place where I grew up. I wanted everyone to get to know the village," she says. Among others, she models an outfit for Adidas that includes a hijab, although she doesn’t wear one on a daily basis.
“I took this step out of identification with women who wear hijab whom I've met on the beach, and I recognized their unease in this situation,” she continues.
“I wanted to send the message to everyone that even in modest dress women can swim in the sea. In modest clothes that suit their lifestyle. My participation in this campaign as a Palestinian woman serves as a statement to women that nothing can stop them. I’m a strong woman, I was raised to be strong, to pave my own way when I can.
"My parents supported me as a child in my decision to play soccer. At first I played with my brothers and later I played with a group of women in Hadera and from there I also made the Israeli women’s team.”
Afterward, Jarban she transferred to a Palestinian team: “My dream was to play with my own people, I felt a desire to give of myself to this team. It was a formative experience for me. Thanks to soccer I learned how to empower women around me.”
After her soccer career and sports studies at Wingate, Jarban and her brother opened the first school in the Israeli Arab community for surfing, which is now attended by children and young adults from all over the country.
“I always aspired to excellence in sports,” she says. “It’s a field that requires self-discipline and persistence. Unfortunately I grew up in a large family, and in the shadow of poverty, and I knew that my path would be more difficult than for others. Still, I was able to bring extreme sports activity, such as surfing, to the awareness of the younger generation in the Arab community.
“Girls and young women come to me from distant places, and for me that reflects another accomplishment as part of my efforts to develop this field," she adds. "I hope to continue to promote the sport of surfing among Arab women. My dream is for them to go places where I myself couldn’t go – to the Olympics and to other international competitions.”
Natalie Alz, Zena Abo Zrka and Sheren Falah Saab are participating in the Haaretz 21 initiative to promote voices and stories from Arab society in Israel