Female Palestinian officer tells of joy at seeing national flag flying at Sandhurst military academy
Mahmoud Abbas to honour Ghada Temeiza, the first Palestinian woman to graduate from the elite institution
From a pool of more than 20 Palestinian recruits who applied for places at Sandhurst, the British Army’s prestigious academy for training military officers took on a pioneering woman who has signed up to defend her nation.
A gruelling set of interviews, fitness tests, presentations and command tasks faces every potential cadet seeking a spot at the Royal Military Academy. But Ghada Temeiza passed them and would go onto become the first Palestinian woman to finish the nearly year-long course.
Lt Temeiza graduated last month and has since returned home to the Palestinian National Security Forces where she helps train soldiers. Speaking to The National, she recalled with pride passing out of Sandhurst as dignitaries lined the square.
“I remember when we were marching to the parade square and I saw my flag up there. It was amazing. I don’t know, I was about to cry because, you know, our situation and what’s going on in Palestine and Israel,” she said, describing her commissioning day.
“Sometimes here we cannot raise our flag, so to see my flag raised in the UK, that was my favourite moment that day and it gave me a push to keep going and finish the parade,” Lt Temeiza added, speaking by phone from Ramallah.
“When I saw my mum and dad and they were looking at me, I was feeling they were so proud and they were so happy. My mum was crying she was so happy.”
She was also struck by where she was standing and who had passed out of Sandhurst’s famed gates before her. These include the British Princes William and Harry, grandson’s of Queen Elizabeth, King Abdullah of Jordan and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
“They got their commission from the same place. I was just thinking this is so great, this is the start of a new journey, it’s not the end of a journey,” said Lt Temeiza, who is originally from Hebron.
The journey to Sandhurst was not easy, however. She originally had studied for fours years at the Palestinian military academy and was working in a desk-based role at the gender unit, which works to give equal opportunities to men and women in the forces.
When a form for potential applicants came through from Sandhurst she realised she met the qualification requirements and, wanting more time in the field, made her move. “So I said why not? And I did.”
Lt Temeiza says she fared fairly well with the various tests, including an interview with a British Army representative in Jericho, but found the exercise elements “the worst.” Given one month to improve her fitness in order to be offered a place she committed to a two a day workout plan – a couple of hours both in the morning and evening – and after only two weeks passed the requisite tests.
Unsurprisingly life at Sandhurst started tough and remained so. An initial love of the academy’s setting in the countryside soon changed as the long, physical days of Sandhurst began. While she had been English major at school, she also initially struggled sometimes with the strong British accents.
There was adversity along the way, including the complications when Lt Temeiza picked up an injury in her first of the three terms.
“I got a bit disappointed. Not a bit actually, a lot. I felt everything was getting worse. But then one day I just decided – no that’s it, that’s enough. I’ll go back, I’ll go to the gym, I’ll get myself fixed, everything will be fine.”
She persevered and graduated. “I’m feeling proud of myself, I’m feeling proud of what I achieved. It’s a nice journey, a great journey to be honest.”
Among those to congratulate her in person was General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, the former director of UK special forces and now the professional head of the British Army.
“Congratulations to all who commissioned into the [British Army] yesterday; and the 33 international cadets who proved such wonderful ambassadors for their countries, none more so than this remarkable woman, Ghada Temeiza, our first Palestinian Sandhurst graduate,” he tweeted last month.
Since returning, Lt Temeiza says she has barely had a day off with her time dominated by detailing her experience at Sandhurst and her role in the Palestinian National Security Forces.
“It’s not easy but I want to achieve something. I’m trying so hard, I don’t mind not having a day off until I get what I want.”
Now she has moved to the training unit and is busy planning military exercises. This week Lt Temeiza will meet with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas who is to give her a medal recognising her time at Sandhurst.
She has also been inundated with messages on Facebook and Instagram from both men and women calling her an inspiration and seeking advice in following her path.
Lt Temeiza tells them seemingly impossible things are achievable but they must be motivated.
“I said – if you want to be something, you just have to really work so hard for it. I think the most important thing is you to believe in yourself.”
Updated: September 13, 2019 09:25 AM