Mass jubilation as 2,000 young couples are wed in a ceremony sponsored by the Turkish state agency, "Tika"
In a relatively unfamiliar spectacle, a long procession marched through the streets of besieged Gaza on Sunday.
It was not the typical sight of crowds setting out in a funeral procession to lay Gaza's latest dead to rest, as has so often been the case in past years. Nor was it an angry crowd demanding the end of the Israeli siege on the Strip. This crowd was celebrating a mass wedding involving 2000 brides and 2000 grooms, an event which dwarfed the mass wedding of 400 Palestinians that had taken place in Gaza just a month before and which had been funded by the UAE and supported by the wife of Mohammed Dahlan.
Women cried out with the traditional "zagreed" (trills of joy), a sound of celebration that has been absent for such a long time and is too often replaced with the thundering roars of the Israeli war machine.
Thank you Turkey
The main streets of Gaza City were decorated with banners that said "Thank you, Turkey," posters of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, pictures of Hamas' Senior Political Leader Ismail Hanieyeh and the map of Palestine, all of which were scattered everywhere.
The wedding procession set out from Surayah Square in central Gaza and rallied at Yarmouk Park.
The Gaza skyline was illuminated with fireworks which infused a magnificent sense of celebration in the largest mass wedding ceremony that has ever taken place in Gaza and which was sponsored and financed by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, "Tika".
The ceremony included 4,000 people who came from regions all over Gaza. Among the newlyweds were several brides and grooms who had been wounded or disabled in the latest Israeli war last summer. Others have limited incomes and have been unable to finance a wedding independently.
Thousands of guests took their seats at the park and were joined by many prominent figures, including the Palestinian Ambassador to Turkey and Minister of Works, Mofeed al-Hassaina, Palestinian Minister of Justice, Saleem al-Saqqa, Hamas Vice Chairman, Ismail Haniyeh, and several others.
Joy out of suffering
Bridegroom Mousa Dhair, 27, was all smiles as his bride, Rasha Dhair sat beside him. "Today, my joy is immeasurable," Dhair said. "I am realising a dream in my life today. I was about to lose hope." The generosity offered by Tika has freed up funds for Dhair and his new wife to purchase some furnishings for their new home.
Mousa Abo Dhair and his wife Rasha before their wedding (MEE/Mohammed Asad)
Not only did Tika fund the expenses of the wedding ceremony and the reception festivities, but each newly married couple also received a wedding gift of $2,000.
The typical wedding in Gaza costs an average of $3,000.
Dhair points to the injuries he sustained during the Israeli war last year. Financial difficulties are only one of the obstacles keeping couples apart in Gaza, he explains. "My fiancée was unable to visit me for two months because it was very dangerous to visit the area where the hospital was," Mousa recalls. "One day, the staff at the hospital came to my room, they had fine clothes and perfumes. They shaved my beard and cut my hair. I didn't know why they were making all the fuss. Shortly after they had finished helping me dress, my fiancée entered the room with her father!"
Rasha completed the description of their joyous reunion, "I was shocked when l saw him lying in the bed and unable to move. I did my best to smile and act happy so as not to upset Mousa. It was really a beautiful moment to finally see him after a sixty–day absence!"
Bliss and gratitude
"Walking among the rows and rows of young couples to be married was like walking through a sea of smiles and tears. It was pure delight," said one attendee of the wedding. "Such a moment is rare and is to be cherished in Gaza."
Ahmed Ashraf Radwan, a 25-year-old groom, was preoccupied with clapping to the melodies performed by a popular local music group. "This is the most beautiful moment in my life," Radwan said. "Shortly, we will settle into our new home, thanks to the financial assistance from Tika."
Radwan, who is among the massive population of unemployed people in Gaza, could not come up with the dowry for his bride, Heba Lubbad, without help. Trying economic circumstances put a halt to his wedding plans time after time. But today was different. "Alhamdulillah" (praise be to God). Today, the biggest achievement in my life has been realised."
His bride, Heba, was in agreement that it was a wonderful outcome, in spite of hard circumstances and unemployment.
The wedding ceremony was followed by a wave of festivities, including musical performances by many local bands, traditional dance troupes performing traditional Palestinian folk dancing "Dabke" and a sing-along of well-known, traditional Palestinian folk songs.
Palestinian and Turkish flags fluttered side-by-side in the sky. Banners waved in the breeze, expressing messages of thanks to both the Turkish people and their government for their love and support of Gaza.
Mohammad Atallah raised the Palestine flag while his bride raised the flag of Turkey. "Today we thank Turkey for this wonderful wedding ceremony that brought delight to our hearts and the hearts of our families," Atallah said.
Starting a new life
Mohammad Abou Jazar sat in his wheelchair, smiling while carrying the flag of Palestine. Abou Jazar lost both of his feet in the Israeli war last summer when his house came under attack. His wife and two sons were killed.
Abou Jazar said: "I wanted to re-marry, just to send a message to the Israeli occupation that we will turn our sadness into joy. We will remarry and have children who will drive you out of our land."
"I thank Turkey’s people and government for their support, I will pursue a happy and peaceful life after the loss of my wife and my two sons. I will treasure my daughter who survived. Alhamdulillah."
The festivities had a very strong security presence as there were many national and international figures who were in attendance. Lieutenant Suhail Abou Samra, Director of Central Operations said an outline of the property was drawn up, and security personnel were dispatched to every corner of the park.
Haniyeh: Mass wedding a symbol of Turkish solidarity
Ismail Haniyeh said that the wedding was a symbol of Palestinian relations with Turkey. "It is a symbol of steady national bonds, and profound fraternal links with Turkey's president, government, parliament and people."
A group of Gazan brides hold pictures of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (MEE/Mohammed Asad)
Haniyeh said that 19 dunums (19,000 square metres) had been allocated to build twenty housing complexes. The project, supported by Turkish donations, will include 340 flats and is part of the rebuilding plan for Gaza. Groundbreaking will commence in the summer of 2015.
When addressing the crowds, Haniyeh said: "Today in Gaza, this ceremony Gives assurance that the night of injustice has faded, and the fangs of the siege have failed to break our will. Conspiracies have been broken on the altar of peoples' steadfastness; Gaza, who was tormented almost to a breaking point, is writing a new chapter today, one of victory and celebration."
Turkey and Gaza: Common sorrows
A representative of the "Tika" association expressed his gratification regarding the wedding of those who sacrificed for the sake of their homeland. He assured the crowd that, "the Turkish republic will remain standing by the side of the people of Gaza forever".
The mass wedding coincided with the anniversary of the Mavi Marmara massacre. On 31st May 2010, the Israeli navy attacked the Mavi Marmara, the largest ship of the Freedom Flotilla headed for Gaza to break the Israeli siege.
The Marmara had approximately 500 passengers aboard, mostly Turkish nationals, and was attacked in international waters in the Mediterranean. Ten Turks were killed and fifty others were wounded when the Israeli navy attacked the ship.
Haniyeh saluted the victims of the Mavi Marmara, expressing that their efforts to reach Gaza was a sign of "unity with the Turkish state, who gave their life-blood in order to reach Gaza".