No wedding bells in Gaza

“When I heard they killed Jabari, I knew I would have to postpone the wedding,” young Gazan woman says.

Palestinians at a home destroyed in IAF strike 370 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah)
Palestinians at a home destroyed in IAF strike 370 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah)
Tuesday was supposed to have been Yara Shaheen’s wedding day.
But on Monday, as she sought shelter with her family instead of carrying out last-minute preparations for her big day, the young Gazan woman held onto hope. Perhaps there’s some mysterious reason, she mused, one that God only knew, that caused this war to happen precisely now – forcing her family to call off the wedding.
She can’t otherwise explain it. Shaheen, 21, a student of English literature at al-Azhar University-Gaza, was going for the final fitting of her wedding gown when the news broke of the conflict last Wednesday, after Israel killed Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari.
“I was at the shop, wearing the white dress, when they killed Jabari. The moment I heard the news, and I knew I would have to postpone the wedding,” she said. Shaheen left the dress at the shop, went home and started family discussions over whether she and her fiancé, Hussam, should cancel the wedding for 400 at the Love Boat hall, not far from Gaza’s nicest beachfront restaurants and hotels.
“It’s so disappointing. I feel anxious and so angry,” Shaheen explained in a phone interview. At the same time, she said, she realized it could have been worse – the war could have started in the middle of her wedding, or with less than 24 hours to cancel.
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“Everyone in Gaza is in pain now, even the people who are not directly exposed to the killing and bombing,” she said.
“Now I don’t care so much about the wedding, but that the people around me should be safe. We’re watching news of children being killed – there’s no way we could celebrate at a time like this.”
The Shaheens are a small family of educated Gazans living in Tel el-Hawa, and like many Gazans, they are desperately seeking a safe place to survive the conflict. Shaheen’s father works at the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, while her mother is a psychologist. One brother, Ayman, 20, is studying in Malaysia. Their youngest brother, Amir, 14, is hoping to go to the US next year with the Seeds of Peace program – which started as a summer camp for Arabs and Israelis but which now does year-round leadership programs in 27 countries.
Amir’s life has radically changed since the beginning of the conflict. He doesn’t go to school, to meet friends or to play soccer, as he normally would. And the noise of the allnight air strikes is so frightening that now he also doesn’t sleep.
“It’s terrifying. We haven’t slept for two days now because of the explosions and air strikes,” he said. Friends’ houses have been damaged, he said, and one friend was injured in the leg.
But most palpably, they have been moving to a different place each night because the area of their house seemed to be in the center of the bombardment.
Two nights ago, they fled their home in Tel el-Hawa, south of Gaza City, and moved into the apartment that was supposed to be Yara and Hussam’s new home following their wedding night. It is close to Shifa Hospital, which the family assumed would be a safer place to ride out the war because of the expectation that it would not be bombed by the IDF. But Sunday night there seemed equally bad, so they were seeking a third place – and contemplating going back home.
“The last 24 hours were horrific for all Palestinians in the Gaza Strip,” said Khalil Shaheen, Yara’s father and a senior official at PCHR.
“In the last few hours, tens of houses were targeted. We are really concerned that no place is now safe in all of the Gaza Strip. Hundreds of families don’t know how to deal with this targeting of houses. I have relatives in Rafah, at Gaza-Egyptian border and the military hit tunnels with tens of bombs. So what’s the alternative for these families who live there?” he asked.
On Monday, the Palestinian death toll rose to 101, Reuters reported, using the Hamas-run Health Ministry as a source; among the dead were 24 children. Hospital officials in Gaza said more than half of those killed were non-combatants.
Three Israeli civilians died on Thursday in a rocket strike.
“It’s not quiet for long,” the would-be father of the bride said. “I’m hearing different explosions.
It’s covering the whole city. It seems that wherever you go, you will hear bombardment, everywhere.”
The wedding has been postponed indefinitely.
If and when a cease-fire is reached and calm returns to Gaza, Yara estimates that they’ll need at least another month to start planning again, to re-book the hall and send out word to friends and family.
Amir said that he still expects to go on the “Seeds of Peace” program next year, but his feelings toward Israelis his age is likely to be less welcoming.
“I think everyone will act normal, but inside there will be some kind of grudge,” he explained.
“I’m happy about one thing. For the first time in our lives we are defending ourselves, we launched and fired rockets at Tel Aviv. Perhaps these attack innocent people, but the Israel army attacks innocent people here in Gaza. They have to also feel what we feel here.”