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Syria: A Golan wedding

12-07-2002 News Release 02/28

For 21-year-old Souheir and her fiancé, 28-year-old Wissam, Thursday, the 4th of July 2002 was a golden day. The couple first met seven years ago when he left his village in the Golan to study at university in Damascus, and Souheir was living with her family in Syria. In time, they fell in love and decided to marry.

   

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The old adage'true love never runs smooth', has a deep resonance when it comes to couples living on either side of the line of demarcation dividing Syria and the Golan plateau, which Israel has occupied since 1967. Wissam and Souheir knew that it might be years before the wedding could take place, and that the logistics of the event would be difficult. It would also mean the bride leaving her family, perhaps forever, for having once crossed the line of demarcation and joined her husband-to-be on the Israeli-occupied side, it would be well-nigh impossible to go back again.

His studies over, Wissam returned home, and both he and his bride-to-be sought official permission to marry from the Israeli and Syrian authorities. Once this had been obtained, they turned to the ICRC for help with the practical details of their wedding. This is a service that the ICRC delegations in Damascus and Tel Aviv often provide for prospective couples living on opposite sides of the demarcation line. With the help of the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) and the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), who monitor the area of separation up on the windy Golan Heights, the ICRC arranges for both families to meet on the narrow, parched strip of land that lies between the Israeli and Syrian checkpoints for a moment of blessings, tears and joy.

Last Thursday, both bride and groom were accompanied by ten of their closest relatives, some of whom were meeting each other for the first, and possibly the last, time. Grapes and peaches and pistachio cakes were handed around. A lifetime's conversation was telescoped into an hour. Blessings were bestowed on the couple by the families'matriarchs dressed traditionally in black dresses and wh ite scarves.

" I feel both happy and sad, " said Wissam, standing close to his bride. " Happy for us and for our new life together, but sad about the loved ones we’ll never see again. " " I’m happy too, " replied Souheir, resplendent in a sequinned white wedding dress and gold jewellery, and carrying a small parasol, " We’ve waited a year for this moment; I’m glad my new life’s about to start. "

The tears of farewell at the end of the hour's celebration were more poignant than the first hugs and kisses. Hands were raised aloft in a last, frantic farewell, and the bride set off beside her groom, up the gentle slope to the Israeli checkpoint, her old life over, and a new one about to start.

Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, civilians living under occupation fall within the ICRC's protection mandate. Every year since 1978, the ICRC delegations in Damascus and Tel Aviv have made it possible for hundreds of students to move back and forth across the line of demarcation to attend Syrian universities. Once a year, the ICRC also arranges for Druze pilgrims to be able to visit holy sites in Syria. The first ICRC-facilitated wedding for couples from opposite sides of the line of separation took place In 1983. During the 1990s, there were 54 such marriages. Four ICRC-assisted weddings have taken place on the Golan Heights so far this year.

 (All pictures by Jessica Barry, Copyright ICRC, 2002)