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Will you marry me under occupation?

Wedding season began weeks ago with the first convoys of honking cars overloaded with singing, dancing, cheering shebab [guys]. From 4pm onwards, the beeping cars and wedding bands – five or more musicians dressed in traditional trousers and blouses, playing different-sized drums and something akin to a kazoo – blot out all other noise as they pass my apartment every half hour or so, en route to the seaside wedding halls.

Gaza evenings are filled with the sounds of celebration. Those who can scrape together the money to rent one of Gaza’s many wedding halls do so – borrowing, taking a bank loan, or if they are lucky having saved from years of work – and invite a few hundred of their family, relatives and friends to the night of dancing. Most families arrive by the busload, a rental bus stuffed with women dressed in their best, already dancing in the all-female bus. Another bus is for the men.

What may seem like an extravagant expenditure is in reality for most Palestinians the biggest party they will ever have, an important mark from single life to married, and an important declaration to the community that the lover they later walk hand-in-hand with is their lawful spouse.

Sadly, this happiest day doesn’t come to many Palestinians in Gaza, or comes much belatedly, owing to the poor economy, high joblessness, and consequent inability to save for the whole marriage package. Aside from the wedding hall, the apartment or room in a family house must be dressed up with at least a bed and a wardrobe, new clothes must be bought, and there are guests to feed. Plastic chairs, the DJ, invitations… it all adds up.

Today I was chatting with a pharmacist. Fluent in English aside from his native Arabic, trained also in acupuncture, the young man – a catch by many standards – is unmarried, though he wishes otherwise. ‘Money,’ he says. ‘I can’t marry because I can’t afford it.’

We talk about the rise in cost of living in the Strip over the years and the soaring apartment and housing prices (thanks to the vast destruction from Israel’s 2008-2009 war on Gaza). Just considering those two factors, even an educated, working man can’t afford the costs. In much of Palestine, it is still the man’s role to pay for virtually all the wedding costs, including a bridal dowry.

A family friend will soon marry, though neither he nor his family can afford it.  But the decision has been made, including with the bride’s family, so there’s no backing down for want of more time to fundraise. This means everyone in the family will chip in however they can, taking cuts to their own family expenditures, selling personal belongings, taking loans.  

Family, being so strong in Palestine, will do these things unquestioningly. It is his time to marry; another time they themselves may need help.

Things would be a whole lot easier if the economy were actually functioning, not hobbling along as it is. Open borders, allowing free import and export, not closed borders, soaring unemployment, and factories and farmers with goods to send if only it were possible.

The other day at a trade show, this point was reiterated. Despite the destruction during Israel’s war on Gaza, factories have gotten themselves running again. But they’ve lost their outside markets, and anyway can’t export anything, save some token flowers when Israel wants good press.

So it’s closed borders, families going under (or already there), and impossible weddings for Gaza until the siege is lifted completely.

Photo by the author.

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