When Hakim Zughbor fled the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014 just hours before the ceasefire ending Israel’s attack was announced, he didn’t know if he would ever see the woman he loved again. He promised her that they would reunite, but they both knew he was making a promise that he might not be able to keep. He was bound for Cairo to find work, leaving her behind the walls of Gaza and the devastation of 51 days of war.
But Hakim’s struggles in Egypt proved fruitless, and three months later, the 27-year-old refugee decided to return to Gaza to be with his true love, Falastin Tanani. They have continued to struggle, but now they are doing so together.
“My life is in Gaza, and Falastin is the one I love,” he said to me over Skype on January 24th, during a brief period when electricity was available.
Life in Gaza presents a multitude of challenges for anyone. For a young couple, dreams of careers and raising a family in a safe environment are just that. Decades of occupation, repeated wars and an eight-year siege have created immense internal pressure on Palestinian society in Gaza, making otherwise normal aspirations all but impossible.
Hakim and Falastin met during stints volunteering in NGOs and connected through their love for writing poetry and blogging about daily life. Both Hakim and Falastin are university educated, having studied architecture and computer engineering respectively, but have been unable to find work in an economy devastated by siege and thus unable to begin their lives together.
For a couple to wed in Gaza, tradition demands that the groom must pay for the wedding and a furnished apartment – which is virtually impossible without outside help.
Some are able to rely on their families to finance their weddings. Others have taken part in mass weddings paid for by Turkish and Qatari governments, a tactic designed to earn popular support.
Facing such overwhelming odds, Hakim and Falastin have turned to the outside world to ask for support in overcoming the circumstances, opening a crowdfunding campaign to raise enough to begin their lives together.
Their GoFundMe campaign has a goal of $9,000, having reached $1,400 in its first two weeks. $9,000 would cover the costs of the wedding hall, the traditional celebration, lunch for the guests, hairdressing, studio photography and transportation.
Crowdfunding a wedding is an unusual step in the Gaza Strip, where tradition and conservatism rule. But in a place where electricity comes on two hours per day and salt water comes out of the sink, Gaza’s residents have turned to unorthodox ways of accomplishing their goals.
“All these difficult circumstances are not going to stop us. We’ve come this far and now we’re engaged and will be married,” Hakim said. “We have responsibilities towards each other.”
Falastin echoed his sentiments. “We have to struggle for everything. That’s the reality in Gaza.”
“Thousands of people are in the same situation, or worse,” Falastin said. “But me and Hakim had the courage to take this step forward. Few in Gaza would take this step to make a crowdfunding campaign. It takes a lot of courage to do this publicly. After all, why do we have to do this? The circumstances are out of our hands, so we are forced to do this.”
Click here to donate to Hakim and Falastin’s crowdfunding campaign.