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Hilary Andersson reports from the Golan Heights
 real 28k

Wednesday, 24 March, 1999, 20:28 GMT
The Druze: Love across the divide
Brides crossing the border
Brides left their families for a husband across the border
By Hilary Andersson in the Golan Heights

The border between Syria and Israel has been opened briefly in an exceptional move to allow seven Syrian brides to cross into Israel to marry. The brides walked across the tightly guarded border between the two enemy states in the full splendour of their wedding dresses.

But romance was mixed with trauma. As they crossed the border some of the brides' faces were swollen with crying. They had to hand in their Syrian passports as they left their country, and left their homes and their loved ones for the last time.

tearful boy
The border has kept some families apart for 30 years
As part of the wedding celebrations scores of Druze, who live in Israel apart from their families, were allowed into the carefully guarded neutral zone by Red Cross and United Nations officials.

There they spent a precious hour with their long lost relatives. Some had not seen their brothers, sister and parents for over 30 years.

Families divided

The Druze, who have been living in the Golan Heights for centuries, suddenly found themselves divided by an impassable border after Israel took the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 war.

Golan Heights
Israel took the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 war
Those who were not granted Israeli permission to cross into the neutral zone on the wedding day, pressed themselves against the wire fence dividing the two countries in desperation, their faces contorted with emotion.

Some could see their relatives from where they stood, but were not allowed close enough to touch them.

A traditional Druze welcome was laid on for the brides on the Israeli side of the border. Giant platters of brightly coloured Syrian dishes were handed around, and Druze praise songs were sung for the brides. "Welcome, our Flower from Damascus", the singers chorused as they gathered around a bride dressed in sparkling white.

relatives meet
After years apart, relatives rush to meet in the neutral zone
The Druze of the Golan still consider themselves to be Syrian. They do not intermingle with Israelis, they refuse to hold Israeli passports, and they live in their own villages.

"I have lost my happiness since I came to Israel" said Rima Safadi, who crossed the border in her wedding gown last year. "I love my husband but I am without my family, and my people", she sobbed.

Love through a megaphone

Some women have courted husbands using megaphones
In a valley near the village of Mejd Al-Shams a line of Druze stand, megaphones in hand, shouting across to the hills in Syria. This is how the Druze communicate on a daily basis with their estranged relatives. Some even court their husbands this way.

The Druze community here believes that the reunification of the Golan Heights as part of a regional peace pact is the only solution to their plight.

"I was only a few feet away from you yesterday at the border," Rima Al Aqabani shouted across the hills to her mother, choking back her tears, "but there was nothing I could do".
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