Couples in Gaza say I do - to debt

A Palestinian woman shopping for a wedding dress, a requirement for a lavish wedding on which young couples are expected to spend up to $27,000. It can take newlyweds several years to pay off the debt.
A Palestinian woman shopping for a wedding dress, a requirement for a lavish wedding on which young couples are expected to spend up to $27,000. It can take newlyweds several years to pay off the debt.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Lavish weddings are expected despite many residents unemployed or living on aid

GAZA CITY (Palestinian Territories) • Abdul Hakim Zoghbor and his wife Falestine Tanani resorted to unusual methods to finance their Gaza Strip wedding, including crowd-funding on the Internet.

In the Palestinian enclave, where youth unemployment is over 60 per cent and 80 per cent of the 1.8 million residents depend on humanitarian aid, marriage is a luxury.

Couples like the 27-year-old newlyweds, who live in a small apartment, are becoming man and wife later in life and taking on debt, which can take several years to pay off. So-called marriage facilitators are even flooding the airwaves of local radio stations with commercials for interest-free financing for young couples.

Family pressure weighs heavily on the shoulders of young couples. "Nobody marries without going into debt, which takes two or three years to pay off, sometimes by selling the gold jewellery given as a gift to the bride," said Ms Falestine.

A lavish ceremony is expected, with a white wedding dress for the bride, a rented function room, a meal for guests and a home ready to move into. "You need to splurge US$15,000 to US$20,000 (S$20,300 to S$27,000)" to satisfy the family, Mr Zoghbor said.

A COMMITMENT TO DEBT

Nobody marries without going into debt, which takes two or three years to pay off. ''

MS FALESTINE TANANI, on the price of getting hitched.

The newlyweds could not raise such a sum on their own. So, to bankroll their wedding, the couple broke a taboo - launching an online crowd-funding campaign to raise money from the public.

They are thought to be the first couple to take that step, and their decision to lay out family finances in public drew criticism in conservative Gaza. "People do not like to talk about it," said Mr Zoghbor.

Life is difficult in myriad ways in Gaza, where Israel and Palestinian militants have fought three wars since 2008. A side-effect has been couples waiting longer to marry, said economist Samir Abu Mudalala.

Mrs Um Mohammed al-Mamluk was desperate to see her 23-year-old son married. With her husband sick and unable to work, she turned to an industry flourishing in Gaza, that of the "marriage facilitators".

Mr Mohammed al-Bahtimi runs one such company, Al-Saada, which offers a US$2,500 wedding package to help couples marry before they turn 30.

"We ask (them) for a contribution of US$700 and a monthly repayment. In return, we provide the banqueting hall, studio photography, music, wedding outfits, meals and transport for the guests and bedroom furniture," he said.

Mrs Um Mohammed was able to marry her son off on the condition she repaid about US$100 a month for 18 months.

She said: "Now I ask myself how to get his little brother Mahmud, who is 21, married and also his cousin, who is already 26 and not yet settled."

Mr Bahtimi said his company helps only those who can reimburse the wedding cost.

The economic slump also means that grooms are choosy about their future brides, said economist Abu Mudalala. Over the past 10 years, the number of divorces has also doubled.

He said: "They are looking for a working wife to help them, either because they are out of work or their income is not enough to meet the costs that have soared in recent years."

AGENCE FRANCE- PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2016, with the headline 'Couples in Gaza say I do - to debt'. Print Edition | Subscribe