Middle East

Israeli Arab Catholic ballerina wins Israel's first transgender beauty pageant

Arab Israeli Talleen Abu Hanna, 21, poses on stage after she was announced as the first Miss Trans Israel. Source: AP

Israel is one of the most LGBTI-friendly countries in the Middle East region, although intolerance and discrimination is still prevalent in Arab and Orthodox Jewish communities.

Ta’alin Abu Hanna, a 21-year-old Arab Israeli from a Catholic family in Nazereth, has won the country's first ever transgender beauty pageant. 

Ms Abu Hanna will go on to represent Israel in the Miss Trans Star International pageant in Spain in August. She has also won $15,000 worth of plastic surgery from a hospital in Thailand, a country recognised as one of the most popular - and cost-effective - in performing gender-reassignment operations.

“If I had not been in Israel and had been elsewhere — in Palestine or in any other Arab country — I might have been oppressed or I might have been in prison or murdered,” The Times of Israel reported Ms Abu Hanna as saying.

Israel is one of the most LGBTI-friendly countries in the region, although intolerance and discrimination is still prevalent in Arab and Orthodox Jewish communities.

Last year, a 16-year-old girl was stabbed to death by an ultra-Orthodox man at a Jerusalem Gay Pride parade. 

Caroline Khouri, an Arab-Israeli contestant in the pageant, said she faced violence from her relatives in her home town of Tamra.

"My cousins, my father, my brother-in-law all came and beat me and took me by force and cut my hair, tied me to the bed and left me there for three days with no food," she told NBC News.

Some foreigners and Israelis have accused the government and others of "pink-washing" the Israel's image - exploiting its relatively progressive LGBTI record to overshadow violations of international law and its occupation of the Palestinian territories.

"Listen, there isn’t propaganda here. We live in Tel Aviv, in Israel, the only sane country in the region where people can live as gays or transgender and no one is going to throw them off the rooftop or slaughter them. This is just the reality here. It’s not some sort of brainwashing or pinkwashing or whatever,” organiser  Yisraela Stephani Lev told to The Jerusalem Post.

The pageant's organisers have consistently highlighted the diversity of the event, which also included Eileen Ben-Zaken, a contestant from a Jewish Orthodox background.

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