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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 June, 2004, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
Arabs quit Israeli beauty contest
Israeli competitors in the
Sixteen Israeli girls took part in the contest
A beauty pageant designed to bring Israeli and Palestinian communities together has gone ahead despite all its Arab contestants pulling out.

Sixteen Israeli girls entered the competition, named "Miss Seam Line" after the frontier dividing the communities from each other. But eight Palestinian Christians from Bethlehem gradually pulled out, because of threats and political pressure.

The last to withdraw was Dina Mukhreiz, who other girls had tipped to win.

Israeli organizer Azi Nagar was phlegmatic about the withdrawal, especially after the family apparently received threats from fellow Palestinians.

I can see why [Dina] wouldn't risk her life for a beauty contest
Contestant Shimrit Ben Yair
"I prefer to have a happy, pretty girl than a frightened beauty queen, not to mention a dead one," he said.

The AFP news agency quoted a relative of Dina saying: "Gilo [where the contest was to be held] used to be Palestinian. It would not be politically correct for her to be there."

One of the Israeli contestants, 20-year-old Shimrit Ben Yair, believed Dina would have won "because of her looks and because she is Arab".

"I think it's too bad she isn't here, but I can see why she wouldn't risk her life for a beauty contest," she said.

Mr Nagar had invited girls from both communities to take part in the competition in Gilo, which is built on an area occupied by Israel since 1967.

Dina Mukhreiz, a Palestinian girl who pulled out of an Israeli beauty contest
Fellow competitors had tipped Dina Mukhreiz to win
The contest went ahead, with the Israeli girls donning evening gowns and bathing suits, and was eventually won by 17-year-old Ortal Balilti.

She said: "I think that the contest can't change the situation, but the fact that it was staged proved that [Israelis and Palestinians] can live together and get along, and that there is still hope for peace."

Mr Nagar, a businessman from Gilo, said he would try again next year to get both communities involved in the contest.

The settlement - which Israelis consider a suburb of Jerusalem - saw an upsurge of violence at the beginning of the intifada three years ago, but will soon be cut off from the West Bank by a barrier Israel is erecting around Palestinian communities.

The Israeli authorities say the barrier is to stop suicide bombings; Palestinians say it is to annex more occupied land.

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