Tuesday, March 13, 2007
A wedding of no return
Weddings are always emotional. Even more so, if you are attending a Druze wedding in the Golan Heights. The bride, the parents, and all their guests seemed to alternate between bouts of singing and dancing one moment, then crying and shouting the next.
The Druze are an ancient religious community spread out across Lebanon, Syria and Israel. In the case of the Druze of the Golan, the community is separated along the lines of the 1967 war - between Syria and Israeli-occupied territory. On this occasion, Arwad, an Israeli-Druze bride was leaving her family to marry a Syrian-Druze. But because both countries are still technically in a state of war, Arwad will never be able to return home unless Syria and Israel sign a peace agreement.
The wedding takes place on the UN demilitarized zone between Syrian and Israeli forces. It's a bureaucratic nightmare to set up. Wedding permits from both Syria and Israel are needed. Then all the guests and family attending the ceremony need to be cleared for security. The whole process from start to finish takes more than a year. A very long engagement.
But a wedding like this is much more than the union of a husband and wife. It's also an opportunity for Druze to try and reunite with their families across the border - if only for a moment.
When it was time for Arwad to leave, the emotions were too much. Her family swarmed around her, hugging her and giving their last goodbyes. And the media only made things worse, pressing in to record the moment on camera, scribbling in notebooks. Photographers clambered on top of each other to get the crucial shot of the bride walking into the demilitarized zone. Israeli border police shouted at us to calm down, pulling down more than one cameraman who had managed to scale the fence.
Reporters were only allowed to go as far as the border gate while the wedding took place several hundred meters in at the midpoint of the buffer zone. Through the barbed wire, you could see the bride and groom finally together. All around them, people were laughing and hugging, some were crying. These are the lucky ones, guests who were cleared to attend, temporarily reunited with family that live in Syria.
But there were many more who were left behind. At the border fence they jumped up and down, waving to the relatives they could see but not hear or touch. Some called excitedly on their mobile phones. Others broke down in tears begging the Israeli border forces to let them through to see their family. Weddings like this happen only a few times a year. A handful managed to convince the Israeli authorities to let them through for just 5 minutes. Each time someone got through, they would run like mad into the arms of their families.
The whole ceremony lasts for just one hour. The toughest part comes at the end when UN and Red Cross officials step in to separate the families again. Only the bride is allowed to cross into Syria. And once she goes, she can't come back.
I'm not the kind of person who cries at weddings. But I did at this one.
Click here to watch my report
-- From Atika Shubert, CNN International Correspondent
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