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Sama Hassan

Gaza widows under pressure to remarry

Gaza's widows often have a bleak future ahead of them [AFP]

Date of publication: 7 January, 2015

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Once considered a "shameful" practice, previously unmarried men can now marry martyrs' widows - not so much for the welfare of the widows, but more to secure custody of any children.
According to recent media reports, a 19-year-old Gazan married the widows of his two brothers who were killed in the summer Israeli war on Gaza. The news has provoked a strong reaction on social media.

The 19-year-old's father arranged for the marriage of the widows after his sons were killed by an Israeli shell that hit their home. The father's wife, his two other sons and three of his grandchildren were also killed. He was fearful for the future of his orphaned grandchildren and family, so he convinced his youngest and only surviving son to marry both of his brother's widows at the same time.

Years ago, my mother used to tell me about the customs of marriage, which come from Islam and other local sources. It was seen as shameful for a previously unmarried man to marry a widow or divorcee. At this, my mother beat her chest confidently, predicting this marriage was bound to fail.
The recent Israeli aggression has left in its wake around 4,000 to 5,000 widows, all of whom have difficult decisions to make.


Gazan society clung on to its marriage traditions until the start of the first intifada.

Previously, bachelors were under great social pressure to marry those believed to be virgins, while widows and divorced women had two options - to marry divorced or widowed men or spend the rest of their lives alone.

When a divorced woman remarries in Gaza, her former husband tends to be given custody of any children. When a widow remarries, her children tend to be cared for by her former husband's family.

Under the pressure of the first intifada these customs started to disappear, and it became acceptable for men to marry their brothers' widows, regardless of the age gap between them, or whether there were children involved.

The most important issue was not to lose the children. The widows would return to their parents' home once the funeral was over - but the widow's father would often leave the door open for the deceased's brothers to marry the widow, and sometimes pressure the woman into taking a husband from the martyr's family.

The war over widows

A hidden war would ignite whenever a young married man was killed, leaving behind his young wife and children. The wives of his brothers were scared the young widow would soon knock them down the familial rankings once the iddah - the period of four months and ten nights after a spouse's death in which a Muslim woman cannot remarry - was over and the family's adult men had decided on which brother the young widow would marry.

The widows faced tough choices because they often could not return to the homes they had shared with their former husband. If their families were flexible, she may have been allowed to stay in her dead husband's house until the iddah was over. So they often married the brother closest to their age who had not yet married, or become a second wife.

The recent Israeli aggression has left in its wake around 4,000 to 5,000 widows, all of whom have difficult decisions to make. They are either forgotten by society or inherited by their husbands' brothers. In the dim and distant past, brothers would put a cloak over their dead brother's wife, signalling that she was his new wife, with much pride and little discontent.

In Gaza, widows must marry immediately because society cares more about the children of those killed by the Israelis and its loyalty to the martyrs, than it does for the "luxury" of thinking about a widow's feelings and emotions.

No room is made for the consideration of alternative options, or for these marriages and their consequences for both sides to be examined.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.


This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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