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Israel: Miss Universe contestants accused of 'appropriating Palestinian culture'

The pageants were pictured wearing traditional Palestinian dresses and stuffing vine leaves, claiming to be experiencing Israeli culture
Miss Philippines Beatrice Gomez preparing vine leaves with Palestinian women in Eilat (social media)

Miss Universe candidates have provoked social media outrage as photos emerged of them participating in a "visit Israel" campaign seen as "appropriating Palestinian culture". 

The Miss Universe contestants appear to be donning traditional Palestinian thobes (dresses) and rolling grape leaves in the Red Sea city of Eilat in a series of images uploaded by Miss Philippines Beatrice Gomez claiming to be experiencing Israeli culture.  

The beauty contestant linked the Visit Israel official Twitter page with the phrase "Day in the life of a Bedouin".

Hanna Nepliakh of Ukraine shared a photo of herself preparing traditional Palestinian sweet maamoul in a similar post. Despite the date-filled sweet being popular and symbolic among Palestinians, Hanna made no mention of Palestine, instead stating:

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"We had stopped at a Bedouin settlement in Israel and plunged into their culture and traditions."

In another video, the candidates are seen dancing with local women who are singing and drumming traditional Palestinian folk tunes. 

The contestants' visit to the Bedouin town marked the end of their tour of Israel, which began in occupied Jerusalem and ended in Eilat, where the Miss Universe competition will be held on 13 December.

The city of Eilat was built upon the ruins of a small Palestinian fishing town of Um al-Rashrash during the Nakba, when almost 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their towns and villages by Zionist militias in 1948.

Many social media users slammed what they described as Israel's “erasure of indigenous existence” and “promotion of the occupation forces using cultural appropriation” 

Many regarded this as a means to "whitewash the occupation” and disregard the realities experienced by Bedouin Palestinians.

For decades, Palestinian Bedouins have been subjected to destructive Israeli policies targeting their communities, in what one senior official in Israel's Ministry of Defence has referred to as a "purge" of Palestinian Bedouins.

Earlier in October, Mandla Mandela, the grandson of the former president of South Africa, called on all former Miss South Africa winners to boycott the event in protest over the "occupation and cruel treatment of Palestinians at the hands of apartheid Israel regime". 

MEE contacted the Miss Universe pageant on whether there were any Palestinian Bedouins involved and why the activity took place but did not receive a reply. 

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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