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Israeli Colonialism and the Erasure of Palestinian Identity at the Miss Universe 2021 Pageant

posted on: Dec 15, 2021

Israeli Colonialism and the Erasure of Palestinian Identity at the Miss Universe 2021 Pageant

By: Omar Mansour / Arab America Contributing Writer

The unapologetic erasure of Palestinian culture and identity by the Israeli state and Miss Universe contestants caused social media outrage over the week, as photos emerged of them participating in a “visit Israel” campaign while donning the traditional Palestinian Thobe and rolling grape leaves emerged online. This attempt by the Israeli state to “Israelise” Palestinian culture is, of course, nothing new. 

Enraging social media users all over the world, Miss Philippines Beatrice Luigi Gomez posted pictures on Instagram of herself and her fellow contestants in the city of Eilat rolling grape leaves and wearing traditional Palestinian dresses, claiming it to be Israeli culture. Many social media users slammed what they described as Israel’s “erasure of indigenous existence” and “promotion of the occupation forces using cultural appropriation

The beauty contestant linked the Visit Israel official Twitter page with the phrase “Day in the life of a Bedouin”. Not only is this image and text blatant appropriation and erasure, it is apparently not even geographically accurate, as is explained below by Twitter user Joey Ayoub.

In almost all cases of appropriation, the original source are either completely unknown or wildly misunderstood.

Ukrainian contestant Hanna Nepliakh shared a photo of herself preparing the sweet maamoul, a popular and symbolics sweet among Palestinians, Hanna made no mention of Palestine, instead stating:“We had stopped at a Bedouin settlement in Israel and plunged into their culture and traditions.” How ironic to make no mention of Palestine, specifically, but to use the term “settlements” as some sort of unofficial living space in reference to Palestinian Bedouins in Occupied Palestine, thereby positioning “Israelis” as the natives with official living spaces.

The 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 was held on 13 December. The city itself is a commentary on erasure, as it was 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 to make way for the creation of the Israeli state.

This tour takes on a new irony, especially when you factor in how Palestinian Bedouins have been subjected to destructive Israeli colonial policies targeting their communities, even with Israeli citizenship. For example, the Bedouin village of Al-Araqeeb has been destroyed by Israeli forces almost 200 times.

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