Sarah Idan, aka “Miss Iraq,” visited Israel this week and her unlikely “sister” from the 2017 Miss Universe contest: Miss Israel, Adar Gandelsman.
Idan received death threats that forced her family to flee from Iraq after she posed a selfie with Gandelsman on social media in 2017 during the contest, with a caption that read: "Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel."
Idan and Gandelsman on Wednesday jointly addressed the American Jewish Committee's (AJC) global forum held in Jerusalem for the first time this year
“We became friends in less than 10 minutes,” Idan told the crowd about her meeting with Gandelsman in Las Vegas last year. “All it took for us to feel connected was we were both not concerned with the difference of our faith, beliefs and nationality.”
Idan, who now lives in the United States, also alluded to the threats she continues to receive for her calls for peace in the Middle East.
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“I traveled thousands of miles and put my life at risk not just to express how so many of us are tired of this endless war between our countries,” she said. “My hope is I get to see my Jewish brothers and sisters roam freely from Jerusalem to Ramallah, to Babylon and to the Nile, and for my fellow Arabs and Muslims to walk through Israel without fear of having an Israel stamp in their passports.”
While in Israel, Idan posted warm messages on social media about her and Gandelsman. She captioned one photo of them hugging with her head on her Israeli friend's shoulder on Instagram as a "sisters' reunion."
In a selfie video, the two women utter traditional Hebrew and Arabic greetings, with the Iraqi woman saying "Shalom" to Gandelsman's "Salam." Idan captioned the video with the hashtag #middleeasternqueens.
Addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in her remarks to the AJC, Idan said she hopes for “the Palestinians to not live in the fear of being displaced, to cross Tel Aviv beaches and pray at Al-Aqsa without complication." She urged the opening of "a new chapter for Israel and Palestine with less blood and more amity.”
Ofir Gendelman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman for Arabic media, joined in celebration of Idan’s visit. Gendelman retweeted several of the photos Idan posted online alongside the comment, “Friendly relations between Israelis & Arabs will definitely help in ushering in a better tomorrow for all of us in the Middle East.”
While in Jerusalem, Idan also visited the Machane Yehuda Market. She was warmly welcomed by Israelis of Iraqi origin, according to the Israeli Hadashot television network, and ate at an Iraqi-Jewish restaurant.
“It actually felt weird -- the people look like my people,” Idan told Hadashot about Jerusalem. “Everything seems familiar to me.”