A bride and groom from Ramallah wait for an Israeli soldier to allow them to pass the Qalandiya checkpoint to Jerusalem to get married, September 23, 2002.


Atta Oweisat/AFP via Getty Images

Blog Post

For Jerusalemites, Family Celebrations Are Often Marred or Canceled by Israeli Military Checkpoints

On October 7, 2023, Israel declared a state of emergency, passing emergency laws and imposing a complete lockdown on East Jerusalem, the rest of the occupied West Bank, and and all surrounding areas. It closed all checkpoints, terminals, and city access points and enforced new roadblocks. These measures blocked access to East Jerusalem by Palestinians living in areas surrounding the city, and went further: they made movement even within Jerusalem itself highly restricted and sometimes impossible for the city’s Palestinian residents.

How do such closure measures affect people’s lives, particularly those who are in school, have jobs, want to care for family members, have medical appointments, or have other urgent affairs to pursue?

Or suppose happy occasions, like big family gatherings, especially birthdays and weddings?

Denied a Once in a Lifetime Celebration

“You’ll have to excuse me if I sound self-absorbed in light of the horrendous genocidal war on Gaza,” Amira, 53, from the Palestinian neighborhood of al-‘Isawiyya, told Jerusalem Story on January 29, 2024. “But I can’t help feeling bummed that we had to cancel my daughter’s much-anticipated wedding, which was set for February 14, 2024. We had made all arrangements one year in advance. She’s my only daughter, and she’s had a tough life due to some medical conditions. We were so excited to celebrate her wedding in Bethlehem. We figured this would be the best choice of location for friends and family who are spread between East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank to attend.”1

But that was before October 7, 2023, and before Palestinian towns were placed under a more severe lockdown. More than five months into the war, most entrances to and exits out of the West Bank have remained blocked. In Amira’s case, there was no way to guarantee that nonresidents would be allowed to enter Bethlehem, even with Israeli-issued permits and irrespective of the purpose of the visit.

“Of course, we still have no heart to celebrate in the first place,” Amira stated, a sentiment most Palestinians have expressed since the war began. Even if people were able to move freely from one area to another, as people do in normal countries, the ongoing atrocities in Gaza have stripped joy from people’s hearts.

No Weddings since October 6, 2023

Jerusalem Story caught up with Amira in March and asked her how the family had decided to handle the wedding. “We ended up opting for a small gathering in Jerusalem with a fraction of the originally planned for guests present,” Amira shared. “The groom’s entire family missed it, since he and his father are the only ones who have a Jerusalem [Israeli-issued permanent-resident] ID. His mother was supposed to get her papers sorted years ago, but the Israeli officials delayed the process for so long that her own son got married and she’s still waiting! We decided to cancel the wedding celebration rather than delay it, because you never know how long these things take. You can see that even now, most of the checkpoints are still closed with the occasional and unpredictable opening.” 

As a mother, Amira couldn’t get over the fact that Israeli policies prevented the groom’s mother from attending her own son’s marriage.

Amira couldn’t get over the fact that Israeli policies prevented the groom’s mother from attending her own son’s marriage.

Passenger inspection sign at Bethlehem checkpoint, 2007

Passenger inspection sign at Bethlehem checkpoint, 2007


James Emery, Wikimedia Commons

In an article published two weeks after Israel declared war and imposed a state of emergency, Jamal Odeh, owner of a wedding and events hall in the Nablus area, noted that the last wedding celebration he observed was on October 6, 2023—exactly one day before the war began. “People are unable to continue their lives normally,” he said. “All events have been postponed or cancelled.”2 Although crossing checkpoints has been especially difficult since the war on Gaza began, Palestinians have been crossing unpleasant, humiliating, and time-consuming checkpoints for decades.

Over Several Decades, Things Haven’t Changed

The checkpoint restrictions and lack of freedom of movement for Palestinians “can often disrupt travel, divide extended families and mean not everyone gets to share in what should be a unifying event.”3

In a casual conversation with Jerusalem Story in February 2024, Arwa, 40, a Jerusalem-based Palestinian fitness instructor, shared that the unnatural situation under occupation has “always been the same.” She said that her whole life was largely influenced by Israeli policies: “They prevented me from celebrating my 13th and my 40th birthday parties—the only two birthday events I ever cared to plan.”4

Interactive Map Checkpoints around Jerusalem

An interactive map of the checkpoints around Jerusalem that control Palestinian access to the city

“They prevented me from celebrating my 13th and my 40th birthday parties—the only two birthday events I ever cared to plan.”


In 1996, when Arwa was turning 13, Palestinians were enraged when Israelis opened a second entrance into the Western Wall Tunnel within the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The move dismissed the long-standing status quo that prevailed for all religious sites in Jerusalem and undermined the foundations of Palestinians’ homes. The public’s anger triggered clashes, which erupted in Jerusalem but soon spread throughout the country, resulting in the killing of 86 Palestinians and 15 Israeli soldiers.5 Benjamin Netanyahu was Israel’s prime minister.

Arwa recalls the incident vividly. “Netanyahu had insisted, despite the warnings of the United States and the concerns of the United Nations, that he had no regrets over his actions, and he blatantly dismissed the presence of non-Jewish inhabitants in Jerusalem.” The Security Council had urged in Resolution 1073 for “the immediate cessation and reversal of all acts which have resulted in the aggravation of the situation.” Jerusalemites saw little difference in Israel’s policies after the resolution passed. Arwa’s birthday party had to be canceled.

Arwa, who was born in October 1983, reflected on the general indifference to Palestinian human rights then and continuing to this day, in “light of a horrendous atrocity being perpetrated on the people of Gaza. Twenty-seven years later,” she observed, “and Netanyahu is still making these appalling statements that dehumanize, shatter, and remove all chances for Palestinians to have decent lives.”

“Back in 1996, I had to call each and every one of my friends to cancel my long-awaited 13th birthday gathering in Jerusalem. All of them said I didn’t need to call them; they knew it was impossible to meet: entire roads were shut down, with clashes, violence, and danger lurking everywhere.”

“This year,” Arwa continued, “I didn’t have to make those calls: I would say every single person I know got into a collective depression just watching the news on Gaza. This was supposed to be my 40th birthday, but it’s still Netanyahu, and his policies have only gotten worse.” Arwa mused that she has already aged a decade since October 7, 2023, due to the agonizing situation.

Backgrounder Checkpoints, Part 1: Severing Jerusalem

An overview of the complex web of 18 military checkpoints around Jerusalem that control and constrain Palestinian access to the city

Memories of Weddings: Not Quite Typical for Palestinians

Ask Palestinian Jerusalemites about their memories of weddings, and their responses are anything but predictable. Maya, 38, shared her account of her best friend’s wedding in Bethlehem.

“In 2010,” she recounted, “my best friend from Jerusalem got married to a great mutual friend of ours. Their wedding in Bethlehem was spectacular. We danced the night away, and on our way back through Checkpoint 300, the soldiers made us stop. It was after 1 a.m. They made the bride’s brother, who happened to be the best man, and two other friends get out of the car and walk. The soldier was shouting at them as if they had committed a crime, although all of them were Jerusalemites and had the full right to stay in the car. They were made to cross the checkpoint by foot, all dressed in elegant evening attire. I can’t forget how shocked my two friends (in high heels) and the bride’s brother were to have to cross the checkpoints at that hour of the night—with no one else in sight. They were made to stop and wait for a good 30 minutes in the cold, with no explanations whatsoever. I was the driver and had to wait for them in the car, and I actually felt guilty to be warm while they were freezing outside, looking weaker by the minute,”6 Maya sighed.

“It’s been 13 years. My best friend and her husband are happily married, but whenever I think of their wedding, I can’t help but recall this incident, and it breaks my heart to think of how her brother had to be humiliated in the cold in the late hours of the night. I still can’t make sense of what those soldiers were thinking.”

Video Checkpoint 300: The Torturous Commute of the Palestinian Worker Entering Israel from the West Bank

The agony and dehumanizing experience of the “morning commute” for Palestinians who hold Palestinian Authority (PA) ID cards and must enter Israel to feed their families.

“It’s been 13 years . . . but whenever I think of their wedding, I can’t help but recall this incident.”


At the Mercy of Soldiers’ Whims

Malak, 25, shared another wedding story—this one fairly recent.
“In 2022,” Malak recalled, “my all-time favorite cousin got married at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, on a beautiful hill in Jerusalem, near Bethlehem, and we had been anticipating the wedding for a long time. From what I gathered, the wedding was quite outstanding, but I don’t think I’ll ever get over the fact that I, my sister, my mother, and family were not able to make it. I still get emotional just thinking about it.”7

Breathtaking view of Jerusalem from Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Jerusalem

Breathtaking view of Jerusalem from Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Jerusalem


Tantur Ecumenical Institute website

“We are from Ramallah, but we had arranged in advance to get permits from the Israeli military that would enable us to pass the checkpoint and enter Jerusalem, and we paid a lot of money for a van to take us there. We were playing music in the van, all happy and joyful to be going to my cousin’s wedding. The Israeli soldiers stopped the van, which was expected, and they asked for our permits. We were relaxed, because we knew we had all the required papers. The soldiers told the driver to pull aside, which surprised us. My mother, the bride’s aunt, was pleading with the soldiers that everything was OK. We were all women in the van, and clearly we were going to a party: We had our hair done up and our party makeup and best dresses on. It had taken us weeks to prepare, and hours to get ready.”

Malak paused, and then resumed: “The solder said we couldn’t go through, but it made no sense. I started complaining and started to speak to the other soldier who was standing further away. After much pleading, explaining, and begging, the soldier in the back pointed his rifle at my mom and the rest of us. ‘Go back, yalla, zoozoo [move], yalla!’ he exclaimed offensively, without looking at any of us in the eye. The other soldier started beating on the car. We were horrified and could not believe what was happening. The driver started driving back, and I would say what followed was a type of silence I had never experienced before. I guess this is what utter shock and disappointment sounds like.

“My mom eventually had to make that call. She told her sister, the bride’s mother, that all 12 of us in the van would not make it—that the soldiers wouldn’t let us through. ‘What do you mean!’ I heard my aunt scream through the phone, and after much argument, I could sense the collective grief among all the people attending the wedding. I later found out that the bride herself cried at some point.

“My memory of the details got a little blocked, because it was complete silence in the van aside from the driver, who kept saying things like, ‘May God not forgive them.’ None of us said anything on the drive back.

“My mother had been on a diet for months in preparation for the wedding. She was so excited that she fit in that dress. Once she got back home, she changed her clothes, removed her makeup, and went to sleep without saying a word. I believe that memory did something to all 12 of us in a way that I cannot really express to this day.”

“My mother had been on a diet for months in preparation for the wedding.”


Such incidents have become so common for Palestinians that when they hear them, they might say something like, “Oh, that’s all? Let me tell you about that time I was stopped at the checkpoint . . . ”

In an article published in +972 Magazine in 2020, Mya Guarnieri Jaradat described the feeling she experienced when passing the Container checkpoint. She wrote how every time a public vehicle approached the checkpoint, “everyone held their breath as though they were diving underwater. But diving comes with the expectation of surfacing. The thing about The Container is the uncertainty—you never know what’s going to happen. Maybe the soldiers won’t even look your way. Maybe they’ll wave you through. Maybe they’ll pull you over and search you. Maybe you’ll end up in administrative detention. Who knows?”

It is the unpredictability of the checkpoint that makes the encounter between Palestinians and (armed) Israelis so unnerving. The checkpoint is the ultimate tool of control over the most mundane as well as extraordinary moments in Palestinian lives. 

Who knows how many cherished family memories have been blocked from being created, weddings disrupted, missed, or altered, and hearts broken at Israeli military checkpoints?

Personal Story Helga Tawil-Souri: “A Confining and Asphyxiating Experience”

What’s the experience of traversing a checkpoint really like, minute by agonizing minute? And what does it do to your soul? Helga Tawil-Souri narrates.



Amira (pseudonym), interview by Jerusalem Story, February 14, 2024. All subsequent quotes from Amira are from this interview.


Ayman Nobani, “Palestinians in West Bank Face Closures, Attacks amid Israeli Defensive,” Al Jazeera, October 28, 2023.


Palestinian Wedding,” Al Jazeera, August 31, 2016.


Arwa (pseudonym), interview by Jerusalem Story, February 14, 2024. All subsequent quotes from Arwa are from this interview.


Chronology [24 September 1996]: Tunnel Opened by Israel in Old City, Jerusalem; Palestinian-Israeli Clashes,” Interactive Encyclopedia of the Palestine Question, accessed March 27, 2024.


Maya (pseudonym), interview by Jerusalem Story, February 14, 2024. All subsequent quotes from Maya are from this interview.


Malak (pseudonym), interview by Jerusalem Story, February 14, 2024. All subsequent quotes from Malak are from this interview.

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