New Internationalist

An honourable marriage

Issue 346

Reem Haddad meets a young woman who was determined to marry a wounded Hizbullah fighter. And finds that others like her are queuing up.

Sarah John
Sarah John

She has never once regretted it. She says that it’s been a challenge, but also a joy. ‘I am doing exactly what I’ve always wanted to be doing,’ she told me whilst preparing the family’s supper. Nearby a nanny was keeping her eye on the four rambunctious children.

‘When I was a child I swore that I would grow up and fulfill my duty in this life.’

To 30-year-old Kamleh Wehbe, that duty was marrying a severely wounded resistance fighter. Once an active fighter in the Lebanese Shi’a Muslim resistance movement, Hizbullah, her husband Hassan now spends all his time in a wheelchair. He is paralyzed and can only move his head.

Like many others before him, Hassan joined Hizbullah to fight the Israeli army which had invaded southern Lebanon in 1978 causing hundreds of thousands of villagers to flee their homes. Hassan was only 14 when Israel occupied southern Lebanon, but the image of his family fleeing from the Israelis never left his mind. A few years later, desperate to return to their homes, the southerners joined Hizbullah to drive out the Israeli army. Thousands of young men enrolled. Among them was Hassan.

The only way to fight the powerful Israeli army was to ambush Israeli patrols and launch a series of hit-and-run raids against outposts held by the occupying forces.

Fighters were told that the military operations would either cost them their lives or render them severely wounded. Hassan didn’t hesitate.

‘I knew the risks,’ he said. ‘But I was doing something for God and for my country. That was worth every risk.’

During one military operation Hassan’s group was spotted infiltrating the occupied zone. In the ensuing exchange of fire, Hassan was shot in the neck, paralyzing him instantly.

As for all its wounded, Hizbullah stepped in. The movement had already established an association in 1989 to care for its injured fighters and civilians wounded during battle. It currently cares for over 3,000 men, women and children - 80 per cent of the men are former resistance fighters.

Once the medical side is taken care of, the association turns its attention to finding ways to reintegrate the wounded into society. The goal is to make them as independent as possible. This means purchasing homes for their veterans and adapting them to suit their disabilities. Each disabled veteran receives a monthly stipend and their family’s expenses - from school tuition to medical bills - are paid. Before locating jobs for them, patients can benefit from training - in languages, computers, handicrafts, vocational skills. Some can enroll in a university if they wish. An interest-free loan is dispatched for those who want to start their own businesses.

And for bachelors - wives are provided.

There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of young women showing up at the association wanting to marry wounded resistance fighters. Among them was Kamleh.

In 1997, she was matched with Hassan. A year later, she gave birth to quadruplets.

‘Even the association was surprised,’ she laughed. ‘They have been providing us with milk and diapers since the quadruplets arrived.’ A full-time nanny was also provided.

Still more women are calling up the association and putting their names on the waiting list. The latest are several women from Saudi Arabia wishing to marry wounded resistance fighters.

‘This is our duty,’ explained Kamleh. ‘These men have given up their lives and their bodies to free our country. They didn’t have to but they did. And this is the least that we women can do for them.’

Kamleh knew from an early age that she would end up marrying a wounded fighter. The television footage of resistance fighters aired on Lebanese broadcasting stations mesmerized her. As the occupation in the south continued, she swore to marry a fighter one day - a severely wounded fighter.

‘It is an honour to be married to Hassan,’ said Kamleh. ‘A very big honour.’

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.

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