Gaza's mass weddings hide the daily reality of poverty

Gaza's mass weddings hide the daily reality of poverty
4 min read
12 Jun, 2015
Blog: While reports describe a massive shortfall in donor aid to Gaza, mass weddings continue to find funding and support.
A mass wedding in Gaza, financed by the government of Turkey [Anadolu]
UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, this week promised $2.1 million to help fulfil the needs of 565 Gazan families.

The cash should cover rental subsidies, and go towards repairs and lose of household items in the wake of the 2014 Gaza war.

The promise of funds has been welcomed by Gazans, who have yet to receive more than a tiny fraction of the billions of dollars of aid promised to them in recent years. 

According to a recent World Bank report, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait gave just $50 million of the $900 million they pledged in aid, while Qatar delivered just 10 percent of the one billion dollars it promised.

The World Bank said no data had been made available concerning the $200 million pledged by the United Arab Emirates.

However, one visibly prominent form of aid has been the funding of mass weddings. 

The latest wedding took place this month and involved 2,000 couples.

It was funded by the Turkish government, who also promised apartment buildings and $4 million in aid to the newlyweds.

Accordingly, pictures of the event showed couples and spectators alike waving photos of Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who this week suffered a major blow to his personal domestic ambitions of further executive power over Ankara.

Mass weddings in Gaza are becoming more commonplace, with another ceremony in April, this one funded by the UAE and organised by an NGO, run by the wife of Mohammed Dahlan, the former head of Gaza security.

Each of the newlywed couples received $2,000 in the week following their nuptials.
Photo gallery: See more of Palestine's mass weddings 

The UAE has been known to promote mass weddings in its own country in order to cut spiralling wedding costs.

Additionally, in March, Ismail Haniyeh, de facto prime minister of the Gaza Strip, said that a Qatari business tycoon pledged to pay for 50 weddings in Gaza every year, indefinitely, in order to alleviate the financial pressures on young people in the blockaded coastal strip.

Couples who would like to participate in a mass wedding in Gaza are generally invited to apply some months before the wedding takes place, with their eligibility being judged on age, legitimacy as a couple, and in some cases, their political views.

Weddings have, for a long time been a costly and important affair in Palestine, as elsewhere in the Arab world. Al-Araby al-Jadeed reported in April that the average cost of a wedding in Gaza had reached $10,000.

At least 25 mass weddings have been held in Gaza during the past three years.

In January, Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, organised a mass wedding in Jericho - a first for the group - as such collective nuptials had previously been the domain of Hamas.

Each couple was given $4,000, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas used the opportunity to point out that Hamas was not in attendance. 

At a similar wedding, in April, Abbas said that he would look forward to the birth of hundreds of Palestinian babies nine months later.

Itaf Yousef, a women's rights activist, complained to Haaretz at the time that such weddings exploited the difficult economic conditions that Palestinians found themselves in.

"I am against mass weddings because they turn such an intimate social occasion into a political stage, at the expense of the privacy of the people," she said.

Gaza is not the only place in the Arab world where mass weddings and politics intersect, with such weddings also becoming commonplace in much of the Gulf, particularly in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

Organised by the Saudi government and charitable foundations, they reportedly serve as regime publicity, as well as helping young Saudis marry in the context of rising dowry demands.

Last week, at one such wedding in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, the two brides who demanded the lowest dowry payments were rewarded with a cash prize.

Although the visual spectacle of mass weddings in Gaza provides some light-hearted relief to many of the Strip's residents, as well as the couples themselves, considering the dire economic and humanitarian situation in the strip, UNRWA says that aid is desperately needed.

After all, one cannot live on weddings alone.