Since the late 1980s, Israel and Syria have allowed a small number of Golan Druze to cross the frontier on religious pilgrimages or to study. Women can also cross in both directions to get married – but they cannot cross back.
Kuneitra Crossing, Golan Heights: In a buffer zone between two bitter enemies, Arwad Abushahen bid a heartbroken farewell to her family on Monday, her joy at marrying the man she loves tempered by the fact she might never see her home again. After she and Mohanad Hareb wed in a ceremony held in no man’s land along the heavily guarded Israel-Syria frontier, Abushahen followed her new husband to his home in Syria, knowing she’d be barred from returning to her village in the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria 40 years ago.
For Syrians who choose to marry a resident of the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967, their wedding is a happy occasion as much it is a sad one. Once married, they can never return to their homeland, meaning that their wedding day might be the last time they see their family and friends.
Syria and Israel have been technically at war since 1948. Citizens from both countries are therefore prohibited from travelling between the two. Residents from the Golan Heights, seized during the Six Day War by Israel and annexed from Syria in 1981 – despite condemnation from the United Nations Security Council – find themselves on the Israeli side of the fence.
It’s a one-way-ticket in either direction. For Golan Heights residents who want to join a future spouse in Syria, they too must sign on their honour to never return to the other side. Once they’ve crossed the border, they’re given a Syrian residency card which specifies that they’ve renounced their Israeli nationality. For spouses going in the other direction, they receive a renewable one-year residency permit for Israel.
To read more about this phenomenon, see more video of Arwad Abushahen, and an update see full report on France 24 – The Heartbreak of Golan Heights Weddings