DEIR ISTIYA, West Bank – Maha Surougi and Thaer Qasem have lived their entire lives in Syria's largest Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus.
Their first trip to the Palestinian West Bank is the one they will never forget — they went to get married.
Israel maintains a military occupation of the West Bank and strictly controls travel to Palestinian areas of that territory. It also generally bars entry to visitors from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries officially at war with Israel, just as those countries forbid their own residents from visiting Israel.
Exceptions to those travel restrictions are rare. The Palestinian Authority has been able to arrange Israeli entry visas for Palestinian refugees in Syria and Lebanon to visit the West Bank for cultural and sport activities — but only a few dozen visas are granted a year.
In this case, Palestinian authorities helped the young couple get visas so they could transit through Israel, according to the Palestinian commission for education, culture and science.
At the wedding Thursday in the West Bank village of Deir Istiya, female guests were greeted with coffee before a lively procession of women to the wedding venue — a house on loan for the day from a local family. The bride was dressed in traditional Palestinian clothes and a headdress embellished with gold coins.
Observant Muslim Palestinian weddings are segregated by gender. Men gathered in one group with the groom, and women gathered in another section, singing songs in which they mainly praised the bride for wanting to take care of her new husband and her future family.
They ululated, making a sharp loud but pleasant sound, then heaped praise and best wishes on the bride and her family, and the groom and his family.
Surougi's husband-to-be also was surrounded by friends and family as he prepared for the wedding.
Tradition was strictly followed. After being escorted to the house of a local elder, Thaer received praise for himself and his bride from the men of the village, who chanted.
"I have chosen this place because it's my homeland, it's my country. My blood and my soul are here," Surougi said.
Both 23, the couple met at the Yarmouk refugee camp, which was established in 1957 and houses more than 100,000 Palestinian refugees.
Surougi said she never thought her dream of getting married in the place her ancestors had to leave would come true.
"It was even an impossible dream for me to be here, imagine to have my wedding here," she said. "I thank God and all those who helped and stood next to me by bringing me here."