Miss Lebanon, Miss Israel ‘best of friends’

LOS ANGELES — Peace reigns at least at the Miss Universe 2006 contest, where beauties Miss Lebanon and Miss Israel are the “best of friends” despite the bloody fighting between the two countries back home, their companions said.

Even as Israel has bombarded Lebanon in the wake of a missile barrage by the Hizbollah fighters in the country’s south, the two women — Gabrielle Bou Rached of Lebanon and Israel’s Anastacia Entin — have struck up a friendship ahead of Sunday’s tough competition to see who is named the world’s most beautiful woman.

“I think the perpetrators of the current Middle East crisis could learn a few lessons from Miss Lebanon and Miss Israel, who are the best of friends here,” said Miss Germany Natalia Ackerman.

The contest doesn’t allow much room for warring, with contestants from 86 countries this year all crammed into the same Los Angeles hotel for a month with a rigorous schedule of rehearsals for the show. Mostly in their early twenties, the women become friends mainly based on geographic nearness and shared languages.

Entin and Rached have been pulled together by the force of shared cultures, whatever is happening back home, smiling, posing for pictures together, even though Rached’s presence sparked a protest by some 20 Lebanese Muslims Wednesday in front of the downtown Los Angeles hotel.

The protest had no effect and the organisers avoided talking about it, but some contestants said the two Middle Eastern beauties’ friendship set an example for the world.

“The fact that Miss Lebanon and Miss Israel can be friends … people can see that it sets a wonderful example,” said Miss Canada, Alice Panikian.

“Something similar happens between Miss Greece and Miss Turkey, whose countries also do not get along,” she pointed out.

Rached, 20, is a 1.8 metre tall brunette with dark Arab looks born in Beirut. She is studying for a masters degree in language interpretation, hoping to work for the United Nations one day.

Her blonde Israeli counterpart Entin, 21, originally came from Ukraine and emigrated to Israel when she was 13. She plans to enter university next year and is interested in psychology.

“They are so lovely, and they don’t have any problem,” said one of the early favourites for the Miss Universe crown, Miss Australia Erin McNaught.

Organisers of the show say it is not just the two who have bridged enmity and prejudices back home. 

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