By Susan Toomey, American Red Cross
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Mohamad Alzuabi, a Syrian born importer turned humanitarian, who was employed with the International Commitee of the Red Cross prior to the 2011 Syrian uprising.
The ICRC made significant advances with the Syrian people during the time that Mohamad was in its employ, initially with the communications department then later as a
coordinator. He helped break down the communication barrier between the ICRC and Syria as he was able to speak the language of the Syrian people and create and maintain contacts that may have otherwise not been made.
When approached to share the story of his work with the ICRC, Mohamad said, “The story I want to tell is about the weddings.”
He explained that even today most weddings in Syria are arranged by their families. The potential couple will often initially meet over coffee and are married within two months of meeting.
Marriages were not always arranged, however. Sometimes a couple would meet at university, fall in love and decide to marry. Occasionally, a Syrian woman was from Israel-occupied Golan and the man from Syria. When that occurred, the couple would have to undertake the lengthy and arduous task of obtaining permission from both of their governments.
Once permission was obtained, the ICRC would facilitate the actual ceremony in the neutral zone between Syria and Golan. “It was asphalt,” Mohamad explained. “There was barbed wire and signs that if you left the asphalt you would be entering a mine field, but that did not diminish the celebration.” Mohamad went on to explain how the ICRC would set up chairs for the families traveling from opposite ends of the demarcation line to attend the wedding. Dressed up in their best clothes and bearing food, the two families came together to meet and celebrate for the first, and likely last, time.
Watching his first wedding, Mohamad said it was then he realized the true nature of humanitarian work. There was no agenda, political or otherwise. The sole purpose was to bring two families together for a celebration and that was a priority for the ICRC. “The happiness and joy that we were able to create for these two families was indescribable,” he said.
As the radio call would come to wrap the wedding festivities up, the earlier tears of joy would turn to tears of sorrow as the bride’s family would say their farewells. The bride would accompany her new husband and his family to Golan never to return to Syria and, consequently, her family would never be allowed to visit her in Golan.
Despite the bittersweet endings to days that were often years in the making, Mohamad says the weddings are still the best memories of his time with the ICRC.
“I can still feel that happiness and joy,” he said, thinking back upon the weddings he facilitated through the ICRC. “It is something I will carry with me always.”