She is a master of the saber, a maestro of the epee. Meet Palestine’s fencing champion, Dina Al Taher

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Birzeit University student is the first Palestinian to reach quarter-finals in the Arab Fencing Championship, inscribing Palestine’s name in fencing history

Dina Mahmoud Al Taher never knew that signing up for fencing nine years ago, fulfilling her father’s wishes, would lead her down a path that would see her crowned as one of Palestine’s foremost fencing champions. 

Al Taher, who studies accounting at Birzeit University, loves dabke and sports, but she chose modern dance when she was a child, and she pursued the hobby with an unrivaled passion. But, unfortunately, the distance between her house and the dance studio proved to be a challenge, especially considering that she was 11 at the time. 

As dance was not an option, Al Taher sought the next best thing, fencing. She and her sister joined Al-Am’ari Refugee Camp’s club, after her father heard that it was offering fencing lessons. 

“Dad chose this sport because it was, at that time, new, unique, and exciting. My sister didn’t quite find herself happy with it, so she quit a short while later. I, on the other hand, felt really attached to the sport. I felt that it was something on which I could really leave my mark,” said Al Taher, referring to the early moments when she was learning fencing. 

Smiling, Al Taher recalled the very first time she held a saber – the fencing sword – saying, “it was a bit heavy, and I couldn’t carry it properly in the first few times. But I enjoyed it, especially since I had, subconsciously, linked swords with killing; however, fencing is a really relaxing, beautiful sport.” 

When asked to describe fencing matches, Al Taher paused for a moment, seemingly to put into words what cannot be explained. After briefly pondering the idea, she noted that fencing was a fun, distinctive sport that challenges fencers. 

“One thing to note is that, in fencing, you will not win all the time. It is an nontraditional sport, in that it requires you to create your own style, which in turn led me to learn how to concentrate all my senses. Another thing that fencing teaches you is that you should never ever underestimate your opponent, that and gracefully accepting defeat,” Al Taher remarked, with her senses flared, as if she was sizing up everyone around her and thinking ten steps ahead. 

A champion by nature, Al Taher placed third in the Palestine Fencing Championship, her first-ever professional competition. Her win came only after two months of training at Al-Am’ari club, where she was trained by a Polish fencing master. 

Her second competition saw her claim the second place, and by the third event, she claimed the top prize, a gold medal. Al Taher, of course, never rested on her laurels, but she continued to claim top spots in fencing competitions across Palestine. Al Taher’s reputation grew with her wins, which led her to be invited to a fencing training camp in Poland, where she was the youngest attendee. 

“The camp was really a great experience. It helped me hone my skills and learn from professional Polish fencers, which gave me great confidence and allowed me to qualify for international competitions,” she said of her time abroad. 

Al Taher joined the Palestinian national fencing team and took part in several competitions and training camps in Jordan before she and her teammates scored the first Palestinian fencing achievement, winning the silver medal in the 2014 Arab Fencing Championship –  in the team fencing competition – while reaching the quarter-finals in individual fencing, a feat no Palestinian fencer was able to accomplish before her. 

Because she stops at nothing, Al Taher joined the same competition a year later, where she reached, and passed, the quarter-finals, going all the way to the third place and scoring a bronze medal for the Palestinian team. 

Nowadays, in addition to fencing as part of Thaqafi Al-Bireh club, Al Taher trains new fencing students on fencing skills and techniques. But she has higher hopes and ambitions, both for herself and for fencing in Palestine. 

“I hope to become the Arab champion in fencing. It is my holy grail. I know that I can achieve that, I just need to train and build my skills, especially considering that the caliber of competition is getting higher and higher in the Arab world. I can do it because I have both the time and the motivation, and if I don’t catch the trade winds in my sail as a fencer, I will surely do as a trainer,” exclaimed Al Taher, with a burning fire in her eyes and a determined look on her face.