MANILA: Filipino-Palestinian beauty queen Zahra Bianca Saldua rallied support for Gaza in Manila on Sunday as she seeks to raise awareness about Palestine amid ongoing Israeli attacks on the besieged enclave.
Since last month, daily Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 11,800 people and injured tens of thousands more in the Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian health authorities, with women and children making up two-thirds of the death toll.
Saldua, who was crowned Miss Earth Philippines Air in 2018, supported a Palestine booth at the 2023 International Bazaar in Manila on Sunday, hoping to use the opportunity to raise awareness about her people and heritage.
“We came in because we wanted also to boost the awareness, and it’s helpful if you see a Filipino face somehow to explain to the other people what’s going on (in Gaza),” she told Arab News on the sidelines of the event.
“(The booth) gives (people) a chance to get to know a little bit more about the culture because some of them know it just from the news, they don’t know it from the humanity behind it, from the people behind it, the faces, the stories.”
The booth, organized in collaboration with the Palestinian Embassy in Manila, was decorated with Palestinian flags and informative posters of popular cultural symbols, such as olive trees and the traditional embroidery known as tatreez.
It also sells traditional Palestinian scarves and items featuring the watermelon, which has long been a symbol of Palestinian solidarity and resistance.
“The watermelon is used as a symbol because it has the same color as the Palestinian flag. And that’s why we also have our watermelon symbols right now because it’s a sign of resistance, and people are learning so much because of our bazaar,” she said.
Saldua, who has a Palestinian mother and a Filipino father, has also been using social media to counter misinformation about Israel’s war on Gaza. At the booth, she found much support coming from fellow Filipinos.
“We’re just glad that despite what’s going on in social media, despite the ignorance of some people, they are standing with us and they are also sharing their prayers and their sympathy and solidarity, which is most important for us — the solidarity with the Palestinian people,” Saldua said.
Some Filipinos said supporting the booth was indeed their way to stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine.
“We bought a T-shirt as a gesture of our support and solidarity with them, even though we’re not there,” Jenna Arenen, a bank staff member visiting the bazaar, told Arab News. “It’s saddening and it’s a shame also that it’s 2023 and a war is still happening.”
For Twinkle Ferraren, a Manila-based designer, what is happening in Gaza is “an awakening for the whole world,” she told Arab News.
“I’m a human being and I believe that if you care for fellow humans, the Earth even, it’s just that — I think it’s basic. It’s not about taking sides, it’s about tapping into your humanity and really seeing what kind of world you want to be in,” she said.