Friday, March 09, 2007

Islam, honor killings and the Miss Israel beauty pageant

Sonia Verma:

Doaa Fares believed she could be somebody other than herself: a 17-year old high-school dropout from a deeply conservative Druze village, where most women marry young and settle into traditional roles.

The striking brunette with sea-green eyes and pouting lips changed her name to Angelina and entered the Miss Israel beauty pageant hoping to be crowned queen, a title that comes with a cash prize, modelling contract and a car.

Instead, Angelina — the first Druze to compete in the pageant — was threatened with death, allegedly by two uncles and other men from her village who accused her of disgracing the family name with promiscuous behaviour.

When police uncovered the apparent plot to kill her last week, Ms Fares disappeared into protective custody. When she emerged from hiding she announced that she was withdrawing from the competition, fearing for her life.

“My life is much more important than a contest, but it’s very difficult for me to give up my dream,” she said, sitting in the darkened living room of her family home in this small Galilean village. She is too frightened to answer her mobile phone or leave the house.

Ms Fares’s story has dominated the Israeli media as a high-profile example of a foiled “honour killing”, where a woman is murdered by members of her own family for supposed sexual offences that have somehow brought shame to the family.

Last year, seventeen Palestinian women were reported killed in honour crimes, twelve in the Gaza Strip and five in the occupied West Bank. In Israel, seven women were similarly killed for “crimes” ranging from having sex before marriage to being the victim of rape.

For Ms Fares the controversy began last November, when she decided to enter the Miss Israel contest. She chose the name “Angelina” in honour of her idol, the American actress Angelina Jolie, and spent hours watching Fashion Television to prepare for her audition.

The first phase of the competition was a bikini contest. Ms Fares knew that parading in her red two-piece could be considered controversial in the Druze community, whose religion is an offshoot of Islam.

Her participation in the pageant even raised the judges’ eyebrows. “They were very surprised when they found out I was Druze. They asked me if it would be a problem for me to be in the contest. I told them ‘no’, that my whole family supported me,” Ms Fares said.

Dalia, Ms Fares’ mother, defended that decision, saying that she did not want to interfere with her daughter’s dreams. “She was there to represent herself, not the whole Druze community,” she said.

Ms Fares was chosen as one of twenty finalists, convincing the family that they had done the right thing. “Ever since childhood I was preparing myself for this. It was like the dream I had lived inside my head for so long,” Ms Fares said.

Last month, the contestants flew to Thailand on a supervised tour with contest organis-ers, but while Ms Fares was sightseeing, swimming and sun-bathing, trouble was brewing at home. Advertisements featuring Ms Fares in a miniskirt and sleeveless top were published in magazines. On her return to Israel, she received threatening phone calls and e-mails. Men from a neighbouring village shouted insults when she walked down the street.

“They said, ‘You’re a Druze girl, you should be ashamed of yourself’. Some even accused me of prostitution.”

The accusations ignited a furious debate in the village and beyond. Ms Fares was invited to appear on talk shows; her photograph was on the front pages of Israeli newspapers.

Supporters pressed Ms Fares to remain in the competition, while critics — including the Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Mowafak Tarif — demanded that she drop out. “We do encourage progress and modernisation, but certainly there are limits to which a woman can expose herself,” Sheikh Tarif told The Times.

Last week, police received a tip that a group of men in the village, including two of Ms Fares’s uncles, were plotting to kill her. Anwar and Hatem Fares allegedly hired two men to buy guns and a third man to murder their niece. She was taken into protective custody and all five men were jailed.

The real discrimination

Honour killing plot against beauty queen

Family ‘Honor’


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