You are viewing the content for Thursday 11 July 2002

Israeli curfew ruins bride's dream wedding

By Paisley Dodds, Dheisheh Refugee Camp
ISRAELI tanks rumbled in the distance as Jala Abu Ajamia flicked a drop of gritty coffee from her white satin wedding dress, straightened her bustle then left the kitchen to join dozens of women who came to wish her well. It was hardly the wedding of her dreams.

More than half of her invited guests failed to show up; there was no food to serve to the Palestinian party-goers because shops were closed or out of stock; and the gold or cash customarily given to the couple never came as most of the wedding guests were either out of work or out of savings.

"Today is my wedding day and I want to die," said 16-year-old Abu Ajamia who married her 27-year-old first cousin on Sunday during a curfew that all but cleared this
West Bank enclave's dusty streets.

Since back-to-back suicide bombings last month killed 27 Israeli civilians, Israeli troops have taken over all but one of the eight major Palestinian cities and towns in the
West Bank. Residents without special permits can't travel between different parts of the West Bank and Palestinians who used to work in Jerusalem are generally barred from entering the city.

"Since the Israelis occupied this place, everything has changed," said the bride, looking grim and waiting for the groom to bring her to his family's house. Often in Muslim weddings, the legal paperwork occurs days before what is usually an elaborate ceremony steeped in ritual. In Abu Ajamia's case, the paperwork was quick and the ceremony lackluster.

The Palestinian leadership has demanded Israeli forces leave the West Bank cities, but Israeli officials have hinted that the open-ended operation in the West Bank could last months, possibly more than a year, while a fence meant to prevent suicide attacks is being built around Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank.

Israeli authorities acknowledge that ordinary Palestinians are facing difficult living conditions.

Few residents leave their homes during curfews, which often last for days, without any breaks to do shopping, or for students to take exams. Many end up peeking out of the bullet-pierced windows in
Bethlehem's Dheisheh Refugee Camp's maze of cement dwellings to catch a glimpse of passing tanks. The camp offered shelter to displaced Palestinians following Israel's creation in 1948.

When camp residents do venture out during curfew, most travel by foot on less-traveled paths hidden from patrolling tanks. Motorists caught in the street often risk Israeli soldiers tossing stun grenades at their vehicles or firing rubber bullets or tear gas to drive them back to their homes.

Abu Ajamia's family postponed her wedding several times in recent weeks thinking the restrictions would eventually ease and relatives and friends would be able to attend. In the end, they submitted to what has become an altered state of reality skewing life's most mundane events, such as shopping.

Without the curfew, Abu Ajamia's wedding would have been held in a hall large enough to hold hundreds of guests; a DJ would have blared music loud enough to rattle the cinderblock houses; and the groom would have had an elaborate bachelor's party.

None of that occurred on the young bride's wedding day.

"Weddings are a normal part of life yet for us, they are a struggle like everything else we try to do," said Nasser Abu Ajamia, the girl's uncle, as he sat with a group of men in the driveway sipping strong coffee, one of the few refreshments that flowed freely at the wedding.

The girl's mother has struggled to take care of Abu Ajamia since her father died. She hopes the union will allow her young daughter to have a more comfortable life. The groom, Nader al-Masri, works in the refugee camp as a carpenter, mostly making doors that have been damaged or destroyed during clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians.

Some of the less than fifty wedding guests shrugged as they consider the couple's many uncertainties.

"I don't know what will happen to me one day to the next," said Abu Ajamia.

"God willing, life will return to normal and I will find my happiness, but I don't know. I don't know anything."