A United Nations school in the Gaza Strip is the most unlikely wedding venue for the most talked about wedding of the year. Over 88 UNRWA schools across Gaza are currently sheltering nearly 250,000 internally displaced Palestinians who have lost their homes during Israel’s latest military offensives. About 150,000 more Palestinians are displaced, seeking refuge in NGO offices, hospital gardens, and homes belonging to family friends, distant relatives, and even strangers.
Two of these displaced Palestinians decided that they would no longer allow Israel’s invasion to put their lives on hold. One week ago, Heba Fayad and Omar Abu Namar found unimaginable strength in such exceptional circumstances and held their wedding at a UN school in Gaza City’s Shati Refugee Camp.
Heba, 23, did not get the wedding of her dreams. This was a ceasefire wedding in the final hours of the temporary truce — the threat of air strikes still loomed overhead. She did not get to leave for her wedding from her home in Beit Lahiya — a warplane destroyed it. Heba did not get to obsess over every detail of her big day — destruction and shattered lives surrounded her, and everything she had prepared for the wedding was covered in soot. She did not get to make a playlist with all of her favorite songs — she wanted to respect the two thousand dead in Gaza.
Omar, 30, did not get to be with his family on his wedding day — the Rafah border crossing with Egypt was closed, his family forced to stay in the United Arab Emirates. Omar did not have the opportunity to get ready in his home in the Shati Refugee Camp — his, too, had been shelled and destroyed.
The couple had been planning the wedding for next month, but the invasion changed all of that. Knowing that this might be their only chance to build a life together in the near future, the two began to plan, nervous and unsure how this would turn out.
But Heba and Omar got much more than what they could have ever dreamt for. Complete strangers and fellow displacees pulled together to give them a wedding that surpassed any of their expectations. It was an exercise in unadulterated humanity. For the tens if not hundreds of thousands looking forward to their marriage — they invited the entire Gaza Strip — it was a welcome break from the reality of loss and tragedy.
One UN social worker paid for and helped plan the details of Heba’s henna party, a traditional party for the bride and her friends the night before the wedding. Another UN manager rented out chairs, purchased the food, and helped decorate the school grounds. Local dance troupes celebrated with vigor. Displaced mothers and fathers chanted for the couple as if Heba and Omar were their own. Men handed out sweets. Women sand traditional songs to the tune of their clapped beats. Bandaged children ran between the crowd. Arrangements were made for the couple to spend two nights at a hotel in Gaza City for their “honeymoon”. The couple arrived in a UN car.
The wedding was streamed live for the world to see. Tears quickly welled up in my eyes as the sounds of people clapping and cheering in the background drowned out the Al Jazeera reporter describing the scene. No words were necessary to describe the pure joy in that courtyard and the message of life every smile, handshake, and hug carried. Balloons and Palestinian flags filled the skies and lined the walls of the schools. Children danced the night away bearing smiles that reminded me of the goodness and innocence that still remains in the world. I caught a glimpse of the bride and groom holding hands and sitting on the makeshift stage at the end of the courtyard.
They were finally married. The four thousand refugees and aid workers in attendance felt the love.
As the night rolled in, the power went out and emergency flashlights and camera crews illuminated the dance floor for the various dabke groups and guests to dance. You can never truly escape the hardships in Gaza; the power will go out. But the wedding still offered the guests an opportunity to take their minds off of the invasion with food and song.
The newlyweds taught the world a very important lesson in resistance. Resistance is the will to keep going even when life is at its darkest and most painful. Resistance is the desire to define one’s own life and live it according to one’s own rules, not those of a brutal and oppressive military occupation. Resistance is having a wedding in a shelter after one’s home is destroyed. Resistance is defying a ruthless military offensive with a public celebration of life. Resistance is Heba Fayad and Omar Abu Namar.
The author of this report requested to remain anonymous.