Connect to share and comment

"Miss Palestine" hopefuls sent home

No point blaming Israeli occupation — the contest faced its strongest opposition inside the West Bank.

Both Yusef and Remawi have lofty ideals in mind. For them, this pageant is about female liberation — and a return to normal life — in a society that is sharply divided in its approach to women.

Young girls attend university and walk bare-headed in downtown Ramallah and Bethlehem. In more conservative towns and villages of the West Bank, many women cover their heads, marry young and stay at home.

“From the beginning, we wanted to help ourselves,” said Yusef, a diminutive and softly spoken divorcee and mother of five sons. “How can we become more liberated if we don’t do anything? Everyone else is silent.”

Sharpest public criticism has come from Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza Strip, and which has enforced stricter dress codes on women in recent months in Gaza, a region that is physically cut off from the West Bank by Israel.

In a statement, Hamas said such a contest "completely contradicts Palestinian values and traditions."

"Showing beautiful girls in front of the mass media and the audience while our people in Gaza are suffering … is rejected and is considered a blind imitation of Western traditions," the statement said.

Remawi, who enjoyed a liberal upbringing in Jordan until the age of 17, insists the pageant is not anti-Islamic.

“This (contest) doesn’t go against our traditions and religion,” she said. “I’m a Muslim. I pray, I fast. That doesn’t mean I have to wear the uniform.”

Yusef insists the show will go on. She is now looking to hold the final of the beauty contest sometime in January.

But with few allies, it remains unclear if she will be able to overcome opposition to her plans.

“I’m not afraid of anything,” she says defiantly, puffing on a cigarette. “The more enemies I have, the more I want to succeed.”

“I think it’s urgent for our society that we live normally.”