When the Hamas authorities reported the first two cases of coronavirus in the besieged Gaza Strip earlier this month, it was accompanied by an announcement that a slew of businesses would be shuttered indefinitely, including restaurants, cafes and wedding halls.
The measures were introduced in an attempt to slow the potential spread of the highly contagious virus, which has overwhelmed health systems across the world. The authorities have since reported a further seven infections, bringing the total number of cases in Gaza to nine.
Experts say that an outbreak could be catastrophic for Gaza, where two million Palestinians live in a densely populated coastal strip, which has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade for more than 12 years and suffers from shortages of medical supplies, as well as basic goods and electricity.
But the timing of the announcement posed an immediate dilemma for Nabil al-Hajeen, coming just two days before he was due to be married to Fatma.
But for Nabil and Fatma’s home wedding, Nabil’s sisters prepared the traditional Palestinian Somaqia dish for the party and decorated the lounge with plastic flowers and balloons, while they also set up disco lights to recreate the atmosphere of the typical wedding hall.
The wedding Kosha, in which the bride and groom sit during the ceremony, stood in the middle of the lounge and was also adorned with balloons.
“It looks like the marriage parties during the Intifada times of the 1980s and 1990s, when grooms were trying to get married in small parties”, Nabil’s sister, Huda said.
Amid fears of infection or potentially spreading the virus, some relatives decided not to attend, while those who did took some precautionary measures.
“Although it was only a small number of guests, we were scared, so there were no kisses and hugs to congratulate us as normal”, said Huda.
Weddings in Gaza are typically paid for by the groom and the costs can be prohibitive: lunch for the guests, renting the wedding hall, transportation and a cake all need to be paid for.
In a territory where the unemployment rate reached 47 percent last year, according to the World Bank, while youth unemployment is estimated to be even higher, the price of a typical wedding is not affordable for many young men.
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 54 percent of the population in Gaza lives in poverty, while 36 percent are in extreme poverty, as derived by a formula based on consumption levels.
Fatma said that while she was upset when she realised she would not be able to have a large ceremony at a wedding hall, she said she was also relieved that married life would not begin with a mountain of debt.
“I cried a lot because I couldn’t do my party in the wedding hall, but I’m now very happy for the very cheerful party that we had, which has also reduced the cost on my husband so we will live with less debt”.