GAZA CITY — It's a classic problem faced by many young couples the world over: How to finance one's wedding?
But for Abd El-Hakim Zughbor and his fiancée, Falastin Al-Tanani, residents of the Gaza Strip, which is partially blockaded by Israel and Egypt, governed by the hard-line Islamic group Hamas and guided by deeply entrenched social traditions, the challenge of making it to the happy day is compounded even further.
That’s why, after seven years in love and no wedding date on the calendar, the two 27-year-olds opted for a new, rather unusual, method of celebrating one of society's oldest institutions: with an online fundraising campaign via the website GoFundMe.
With the goal of reaching $9,000 to cover the costs of a wedding hall, lunch for a few hundred guests, a dress for the bride, hairdressing, makeup, photography and transportation, Zughbor and Al-Tanani hope to bypass the constraints they face in Gaza and formally tie the knot.
In less than a month, the two have already raised $3,114, mostly from anonymous donations.
Although a growing number of young Gazans have successfully raised money this way for various projects or study abroad, this is the first time a couple in Gaza is attempting to crowdfund a wedding.
“We want to get married as soon as possible, without any delay, but without a decent income, we are not able to cover all the marriage expenses at the moment,” Zughbor said in an interview with The Washington Post.
Zughbor and Al-Tanani are professionals: he an architect and she a telecommunication engineer. But because of the economic hardships in Gaza – unemployment stands at more than 45 percent -- neither are able to find work in their fields.
Instead, Zughbor works as a graphic designer but does not earn enough to pay for a wedding.
For a couple to wed in the coastal enclave, tradition demands that the groom pay all the wedding costs, including transportation for the guests and meals for extended family members, as well furnish an apartment for the couple to start their new lives together.
In recent years, charities affiliated with political factions have organized mass weddings for young couples facing financial difficulties similar to Zughbor and Al-Tanani's. But still, the individual couples must hold wedding parties, lest relatives become offended.
Some of the men ask their families for help, borrow from friends or take out a loan from the bank. For Zughbor, those are not options: His family and friends can't help, and for a bank loan, one needs a basic amount of capital.
Al-Tanani said she didn’t agree with the system but that in order to get married, “we have to meet all the traditional demands.”
There is no registry office option or chance to elope in Gaza. Also, couples can’t just move in together, because according to Islam, it is forbidden to have sexual relations outside of marriage. Hamas, which rules the strip based on a strict interpretation of the religion, harasses young lovers who are not in a formal relationship.
“We have faced a lot of criticism from society and family over the past seven years, so we decided to get engaged just to stop the complaints,” said Al-Tanani, who works with children.
The two met online, sharing a passion for writing poetry and blogging. A few months later, they met in person while volunteering for youth groups in the strip. Struggling to find work, Zughbor moved to Egypt – his mother is Egyptian and he was given citizenship – but he could not find work, so he returned home to Gaza.
In their pitch on GoFundMe, Zughbor writes: “As an architect, I was hoping to be involved in the reconstruction of Gaza following last year’s attack on the Strip which left more than 100,000 buildings and homes damaged or destroyed. I was also hoping to build houses for newlyweds, including my own house. But, an architect requires building materials and with the continued siege on Gaza, building materials have not made it to Gaza and only a mere small number of homes have since been rebuilt.”
Despite the difficulties in Gaza, the two said they want to stay there and try to build a life.
“We don’t have the ability to leave Gaza. We don’t want to seek asylum, and living abroad is not easy,” Al-Tanani said.