In Palestine, amid the certainty of daily oppression due to Israel’s ongoing occupation, wedding celebrations have always been a source of hope and joy for us Palestinians. This personal narrative unveils the extraordinary story of my cousin, Fatima, a brave bride who faced tremendous challenges while planning her wedding during the devastating backdrop of yet another Israeli bombardment on our besieged enclave.
Stripped of the cherished pre-wedding celebrations, Fatima’s determination to forge ahead with love and courage symbolises the indomitable spirit of the Palestinian people.
Tradition and Culture
The celebration of a Palestinian wedding is steeped in rich traditions, each one reflecting the cultural tapestry of the region. The Tulbeh marks the beginning of the journey, where the groom's family formally requests the hand of the bride in marriage as the couple exchanges rings. In Fatima's case, their love story unfolded through a traditional Palestinian engagement. Fatima was introduced to her fiancé online due to him working abroad. Despite the physical distance, they soon felt a connection and fell in love. They marked their engagement by reading the Fateha Islamic prayer, symbolising a moment of deep connection and reflection.
During this intimate gathering, close family members and friends converge and offer words of wisdom, blessings, and encouragement to the soon-to-be-wed couple. This exchange of heartfelt advice and well-wishes serves not only as a source of emotional support but also as a link between generations, preserving cultural values and passing them down to the new union.
The cherished Henna ceremony is another pre-wedding ceremony which symbolises beauty and fertility, where women gather with the bride to paint intricate designs on the bride's hands and feet. The Henna is filled with joyous celebrations, including the spirited Zaghreet and dancing. On the night before the wedding, the families of the bride and groom celebrate a late night Sahra party filled with dance and music.
These joyous pre-wedding celebrations are designed to unite the families of the bride and groom and preserve important Palestinian cultural traditions within the community. Memories are formed and a strong foundation for the marital bond is set.
Like any Palestinian bride, Fatima poured her heart into preparing and planning these important ceremonies, giving her all to create the perfect memory for herself, her family, and friends. However, as fate would have it, things did not go as smoothly as she hoped and Fatima was forced to cancel her cherished Henna and Sahra celebrations.
The Burden of Loss
As the wedding planning commenced, Fatima faced an exceptional challenge - the absence of her husband. He lived abroad to work and provide a better life for himself and his new family. Gaza is plagued with high unemployment rates and minimal economic opportunities due to the ongoing occupation. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 73.9% of Palestinian youth in Gaza are unemployed. Outside of Gaza, Palestinians often feel they can secure a more promising future.
Their love story began with family who played a pivotal role in bringing the bride and groom together. However, the fate of the family soon changed when tragedy struck a week after the engagement. Fatima’s father, my beloved uncle Jamal, passed away unexpectedly. The loss was devastating, casting a shadow of grief and uncertainty over the upcoming wedding, initially scheduled for August 2022. As we mourned his departure, our hearts found solace in the community grieving traditions including the Azza, where friends and family offer prayers for the soul of the departed while supporting the family for three days.
Like our strong wedding traditions, Palestinian families pull strength and patience from the larger community during times of loss, and this was especially true for Fatima and her family who went from celebrating an engagement to mourning a major loss of life in the span of a week.
A Bittersweet Decision
In the face of profound grief, the family rallied together, finding strength in each other's support, and decided to reschedule the wedding for May 2023. Every detail was meticulously planned from the selection of traditional songs and foods to the various traditional dresses and jewellery Fatima would wear on her big day. Each song, each dance, and each dress held an even deeper meaning for Fatima.
A Wedding in War
Just as hope seemed to be on the horizon, a devastating war erupted, turning the once-celebratory atmosphere into one of terror and uncertainty. Bombs, drones, and missiles rained down on Palestinian neighbourhoods promising destruction, death, and trauma.
In five days, Israel killed 34 Palestinians including 6 children.
For the second time, Fatima was faced with an agonising decision - cancel the wedding or leave Gaza to save her life and be with her husband. Israel’s war threatened to strip away the joyous sounds of dance and music planned for Fatima’s wedding and replaced them with the deafening sounds of children wailing and homes collapsing throughout Gaza.
A Determined Bride
Despite the atrocities of war, Fatima’s determination remained unwavering. The war came to an end on May 13, 2023, on the same night of her wedding. With courage and resilience, the bride proceeded with the ceremony, determined to embrace love amid the grief of enduring Israel’s bombardment while under siege.
Fatima and her husband marched into the banquet room following the traditional Palestinian wedding Zaffe marking the beginning of the festivities. The Zaffe featured a lively procession of drumming, lively music and cheer. Rhythmic beats of Dabke dancers filled the air as family and friends danced in unison surrounding the bride and groom in a large circle, reinforcing the bonds of community. Despite the somber backdrop outside, the sounds of spirited and high pitched Zaghareet calls erupted by the women in the room in celebration of Fatima’s marriage and in defiance of the weight of the war. Tearful goodbyes followed as the couple embarked on a new chapter, carrying the essence of Palestine with them - a land of strength, love and rich traditions.
In the face of great despair, Palestinian weddings stand tall as a beacon of hope and strength. Fatima’s journey exemplifies the resiliency of the Palestinian people who have endured brutal oppression throughout history and refuse defeat. Fatima’s wedding became a poignant celebration of love reflecting the unyielding determination of the Palestinian people to cherish life's moments of happiness and plan for the future, no matter the circumstances.
This narrative is a tribute to the richness of Palestinian culture, the unwavering pursuit of happiness, and the profound bond that binds families and communities together. Through the lens of my cousin's wedding, we glimpse the essence of Palestine - a land where joy transcends sorrow, and love remains steadfast even in the face of the most formidable challenges.