Contenders in Israel’s first transgender pageant polished their moves and competed in “Miss Trans Israel.” Talleen Abu Hanna, 21, an Israeli from a Catholic Arab family, was crowned the winner of the 2016 pageant held at HaBima, Israel’s national theater, in Tel Aviv. The 12 finalists spent long hours practicing their routines, strutting in stiletto heels and modeling evening gowns and swim wear.
The competition is more than a show of beauty and pride. It also is a display of coexistence and tolerance, bringing together contestants from Israel’s Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities. The contestants describe themselves as a family of sorts, saying they find strength in one another.
Israel is generally tolerant of gays, and Tel Aviv has emerged as one of the world’s most gay-friendly travel destinations. The Israeli city stands in sharp contrast to most of the rest of the Middle East, where gays are persecuted or even killed in some places. Gay and transgender soldiers openly serve in Israel’s military, and in 1998, a transgender singer, Dana International, won the popular Eurovision song contest. But homosexuality is often shunned in religiously observant Jewish and Muslim communities. Last year, an extremist ultra-Orthodox Jew stabbed a teenage girl to death at a Jerusalem Pride parade.
Oded Balilty is a Pulitzer Prize-winning Israeli photographer. Born and raised in Jerusalem, he began his career as a photographer for the Israeli army magazine Bamahane. In 2002, at the height of the second Palestinian uprising, he joined The Associated Press. In 2007, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his photograph of a lone Jewish settler confronting Israeli security officers during the evacuation of a West Bank settlement outpost. He is the first and only Israeli photographer to receive the Pulitzer Prize. From 2007-2008, he was based in Beijing for AP. Balilty lives in Tel Aviv and photographs current events and documentary features for AP in Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and around the world. Besides his photojournalism, his fine art photography has been exhibited in galleries in Europe and Israel.