Al Jazeera World

Wedding on Hold: Palestine, Politics and Prison

Palestinian women whose lives go on hold when they commit to men serving long prison sentences in Israeli jails.

Filmmaker: Bashar Ghannam

Weddings are a cause for celebration everywhere in the world. For Palestinians, they can be a way of keeping their valuable traditions alive and helping to deal with life under Israeli occupation. But for the women in this film, that day may never come because their fiances are serving life sentences in Israeli jails.

“The positive side of being in prison is that it helped us become closer,” says Ahlam Ahmed al-Tamimi, a former prisoner who was engaged to her cousin Nizar al-Tamimi in 2005 while they were both serving life sentences. They eventually married after being released during the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange in 2011. But at the time, Ahlam describes how their very relationship was a symbol of resistance.

“I resisted the occupation with my love and my engagement to this prisoner. Through the engagement, the prisoner tells the occupier that his life continues,” says Ahlam.

Ahlam al-Tamimi served eight years of a life sentence for her role in a bombing in 2001 that killed 15 people and wounded 130. She got engaged to her cousin, Nizar, while he too was serving a life sentence, for killing an Israeli settler in the occupied West Bank. The US now wants to extradite Ahlam from Jordan, where she now lives, because US citizens were killed in the 2001 bombing; and she is on an FBI ‘most-wanted’ list.

The two other women, Ghufran al-Zamal and Amna al-Jayousi, have more complex stories – and little chance of a similar outcome, yet they remain hopeful.

Amna was already legally married to Ahmed al-Jayoussi who was arrested for helping manufacture suicide belts, a week before their planned wedding ceremony in 2002. But despite pressure from her extended family to abandon Ahmed in prison, Amna’s commitment to him is unwavering, even after 17 years.

“I booked an ‘afterlife husband’, a husband for life and for afterlife….Ahmed and I are not just a couple. We are one soul in two bodies,” she says.

I resisted the occupation with my love and my engagement to this prisoner. Through the engagement, the prisoner tells the occupier that his life continues.

by Ahlam Ahmed al-Tamimi, a former prisoner

Ghufran, on the other hand, had never even met Hassan Salameh when she proposed marriage to him. He was in prison, serving 48 life sentences for his part in fatal attacks in Jerusalem in 1996. But inspired by Ahlam and Nizar’s experience, she initiated the connection with Hassan through Ahlam. “It was difficult for me as a woman to take the first step, to discuss this subject and break social taboos by proposing to a man,” she explains.

Ghufran was familiar with Hassan’s case and in her letters she says, “As he considered his sentence part of a sacrifice, I said I wanted to share it with him and asked him not to deny me this happiness…I wrote that I would share his suffering, his pain and his life.”

Initially, Hassan refused to allow Ghufran to get mixed up in his life and imprisonment – but he later agreed when Ahlam convinced him that “engagement would be a beam of light in a dark place.”

While sometimes letters can take up to a year to arrive, Ghufran and Hassan have created their own world which she says transcends time and space: “We challenged our circumstances and, for us, prison didn’t exist…we planned for our future life and thought about everything. We defied this reality,” contends Ghufran.

“The prison management make fun of prisoners’ engagement,” explains Ahlam…or “prevent the detainee from getting the letter…Sometimes the security agent would tell me, ‘your fiance fainted while in hunger strike’ or that they beat him until bleeding, and it’s all fake news.”

“The purpose is to keep us under constant stress,” she adds.

According to the Jerusalem-based human rights organisation B’tselem, in February 2019, there were over 5,000 Palestinians languishing in Israeli prisons. The idea of women committing to men in prison with long sentences is a little-known aspect of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as well as an intensely personal and complex one.

Regardless of what the men may have done to be handed their multiple life sentences, Ahlam, Ghofran and Amna’s unrelenting loyalty to them is inseparable from their desire for a Palestinian homeland, the personal and the political completely intertwined.