Miss Iraq tells i24NEWS she hopes one day Iraqi Jews can return to ancestral homeland
Iraqi-born beauty queen Sarah Idan made an extraordinary visit to Israel on Wednesday where she expressed her affinity with Iraqi Jews amid delivering a message of peace and hopefulness, despite an absence of diplomatic ties between the Jewish state and her country.
“It wasn’t an easy choice” Idan told i24NEWS about her visit to Israel after making the difficult decision to accept the invitation from American Jewish Committee (AJC).
“I would be the first woman from my country to come and talk about peace and for me that’s an honor and it’s something that needs to be done. So of course I had to come,” she said.
Miss Iraq, Sarah Idan and Miss Israel, Adar Gandelsman struck up an unlikely friendship during the 2017 Miss Universe pageant whose selfie captioned “peace and love” went viral and ignited a string of positive support but also public condemnation.
The selfie, as well as photos of her modeling in a bikini, earned Idan’s family a slew of death threats and a torrent of backlash forcing them to flee their native country.
"It wasn't an easy choice. I would be the first woman from my country to come and talk about peace. For me, that's an honor and something that needs to be done," says 2017 Miss Iraq Sarah Idan (@grrrciara) to @JordanaLMiller at an @ajc event: pic.twitter.com/vrCBzRtvXX— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) June 13, 2018
“I’m very happy to be here, I never had any idea about what Israel looked like, how the people are and to be here and to see both sides and to see the situation, it’s an eye-opener for me,” Idan said in an interview with i24NEWS, alongside Gandelsman following their reunion.
Earlier in the day, Idan took a tour of Jerusalem’s iconic Machne Yehuda market where the 26-year-old was showered with praise by Israeli fans, one woman thanked her “for being so brave” and another called her “an inspiration to all the women in the world.”
As Idan has “many Iraqi Jewish friends back in Los Angeles” where she currently resides, she described her meeting with Jews of Iraqi descent as somewhat familiar. “I know the story, I know how they had to leave Iraq and its very sad but I felt happy because they were happy to see me - someone from their country,” she told i24NEWS.
“I told them I hope that one day you will get to go back to Iraq to visit and even live there if you want to. I see it happening,” she added.
“It actually felt weird — the people look like my people. And the city looks like Damascus, like Syria, and I’ve been there, so everything seems familiar to me,” Idan said of her visit to Jerusalem in a Hadashot TV report published earlier in the day.
Gandelsman recounted to i24NEWS the first time she met Idan at the Miss Universe pageant: “At first I didn’t know if she knew that I was from Israel...then we started to talk and we understood that we wanted take the picture and be friends because it’s not about our country.”
Idan said the Israeli beauty queen had told her initially, “I’m scared to talk to you.”
Iraq and Israel have no diplomatic ties and Baghdad contributed forces to Israel's wars with Arab states in 1967 and 1973. Saddam Hussein also peppered Israel with missiles during the 1991 Gulf War.
However, both women reiterated their desire to overcome the absence of relations between their two countries on a diplomatic level and send a message to the world that the people of Iraq and Israel are not enemies.
“We need to be friends and not to be at war. Why, why do this? It’s not how it’s supposed to be, we are supposed to be altogether because we are human and this is what’s important,” Gandelsman ended.
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