SYRIA - ISRAEL

The heartbreak of Golan Heights weddings

For Syrians who choose to marry a resident of the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967, their wedding is a happy occasion as much it is a sad one. Once married, they can never return to their homeland, meaning that their wedding day might be the last time they see their family and friends. Read more and see the videos...

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For Syrians who choose to marry a resident of the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967, their wedding is a happy occasion as much it is a sad one. Once married, they can never return to their homeland, meaning that their wedding day might be the last time they see their family and friends.

Syria and Israel have been technically at war since 1948. Citizens from both countries are therefore prohibited from travelling between the two. Residents from the Golan Heights, seized during the Six Day War by Israel and annexed from Syria in 1981 - despite condemnation from the United Nations Security Council - find themselves on the Israeli side of the fence.  

It's a one-way-ticket in either direction. For Golan Heights residents who want to join a future spouse in Syria, they too must sign on their honour to never return to the other side. Once they've crossed the border, they're given a Syrian residency card which specifies that they've renounced their Israeli nationality. For spouses going in the other direction, they receive a renewable one-year residency permit for Israel.

We make ourselves heard on what's known as ‘the screaming hill'. Golanaise families gather on the hill and shout out to their families on the other side through loudspeaker. Between us there is a valley of 200 or 300 metres, scattered with mines. We can hear the echo of each other's voices, shouts and cries of joy."

On the "screaming hill" during a wedding. Video published by "baladeenet" September 28, 2009.

Leila at the border crossing in 2007.

“It’s a one-way-ticket. You wave goodbye to your country, your family and your friends”

Leila Safadi runs the Golan-based Banias website. She lives in Majdel Shams, the biggest of five villages on the Golan Heights. Twelve years ago, she left her hometown of Shehba, in south Syria, to join her husband across the border.

Many women come across the border to marry into a Golanaise family. Often, the parents are related. Those who are originally from the Golan Heights but live in Syria, often encourage their offspring to marry into a family still living in the now occupied territory. In the past, a couple would get to know each other by exchanging photos. Now, futures spouses tend to meet a few times in Jordan before getting married. 

I met my husband Samih in Damascus in 1998. He'd obtained permission [from the Israeli authorities] to study dentistry at Damascus University. We fell in love and decided to get married. We were optimistic, because of the peace talks going on at the time; we thought things would change. But in reality, nothing did.

For me to be able to move to the Golan Heights we got help from the Red Cross International Committee (ICRC) and asked both the Syrian and Israeli authorities respectively for me to leave Syria and enter Israel. When I got to the border, I was overcome by fear. A part of you dies when you cross the border. You wave goodbye to your country, your family and your friends.

Two years ago my father died. I asked for permission to go to the funeral but the Israeli authorities refused. For three days, I staged a sit-in on the border crossing with my two children. They finally gave me an 18-hour visitor's pass. It had been ten years that I hadn't seen my family.

A Golan bride leaves her family to join her future husband on the Syrian side. The two families have the right to spend a few minutes to spend together. Video published on YouTube by "farssh".