Like dozens of other couples who got married this summer in the isolated Gaza Strip, for Saed and Falasteen Abu Aser, their wedding was an elaborately planned celebration, complete with a procession through the streets of their neighbourhood.
In a time with little to be joyous about in Gaza, weddings have emerged as welcome festivities that offer a break from the often morose mood in the strip. The coastal territory has faced three wars with Israel over the last decade and a stifling blockade imposed by both Israel and Egypt after the Islamic militant Hamas group violently overran the territory in 2007.
But for the happy couple and their families, a wedding is both a respite from daily hardships and a focal point in the lives of both the well-off and the poor. “My joy is great among my family and my friends and my neighbours and I thank them because they helped and supported me,” said the 22-year-old groom Saed Abu Aser.
His bride, Falasteen, is 17. The Abu Asers are first cousins who come from a poor family. It is not uncommon for cousins to marry in Palestinian society.
Their festivities began days before the wedding ceremony, with a boisterous stag party in which the groom’s friends set the dance floor on fire to the tune of a local band while glitter twinkled from their sweaty faces.
On the day of the wedding, the families gathered for a cheerful lunch before the bride and groom got all spruced up for the big night – he in a black suit and she in a white gown and matching cape, her face daubed in white powder.
They held a lavish wedding party at a hall, where they were driven to in a convoy of decorated, honking cars.
AP photographer Khalil Hamra joined the celebrations, and here is a series of his photographs.
All those expenses can add up, but Abu Aser’s family took out a loan to pay for what has become an increasingly important milestone for people in Gaza. Other impoverished Gazans ask for donations to pay for their rites of marriage.