In late October, a young Palestinian woman named Danya Irshid, only 17 years old, tried to stab an Israeli soldier at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and was shot to death. Within hours, another young Palestinian living in Hebron, the 22-year-old Raed Jaradat, uploaded an image of Danya's body to his Facebook page, adding the Arabic caption, "Imagine it is your sister." The same day (or, some accounts say, the next day), Jaradat, armed with knife, attacked another Israeli soldier in Hebron, and Raed too was shot to death.
At Jaradat's funeral on November 1, Raed's father publically asked Danya's father for her hand in marriage, on behalf of his late son. The betrothal was accepted on the spot: the late Danya Irshid became Danya Jaradat in the eyes of the families, the tearful fathers were raised onto the shoulders of dancing celebrants, as they might be at a wedding of the living, to the sound of upbeat wedding music. The two martyrs were announced as having married in heaven. The reports about this singular event all agree, by the way, that Raed and Danya had never met. There's a brief, subtitled video of all this here; we'll take a closer look at it in a moment.
Posthumous marriage between the living and the dead is not unknown; it's allowed in some places for various legal—or even just sentimental—reasons. France has allowed it since the 1950s, where its legal status is an extension of proxy marriage. Even marrying the dead to the dead has a history: the Chinese once practiced so-called "Ghost Marriage," in which they wedded the dead to other dead partners (or sometimes to living ones), often to placate spirits with a reason to be unhappy, though such events have become very rare. The Sudanese have a form of Ghost Marriage where a living brother stands in for a dead one; any children of such a marriage are considered as the offspring of the dead brother.
In Islam, the marriage of unmarried believers in heaven is apparently part of the expectation of Paradise, at least according to this Koranic excursus, which purports to be authoritative (though one should assume scholarly debate on such a matter), and which addresses aspects of heavenly marriage in great detail. "The believing men and women who died before they got married in the world will be married in Paradise; all of the single people will be married there," it says.
However, that description suggests the wedding of deserving souls according to divine will, and as a divine reward; it would seem to have nothing to do with the wants or actions by the living families. What happened in Hebron, on the other hand, was the result of family intervention, and looks a lot like old Chinese Ghost Marriage, but with a doubtful Islamic twist. At any rate, this posthumous marriage of Palestinian martyrs seems to have been a first among modern Palestinians, or at least that is how a Palestinian news agency in Gaza described it.
(Quick aside: Since so many Westerners seem fixated on paradise's dark-eyed houris, let's note that the excursus' scholar promises that wives in paradise will be the houris' sultanas.)
Now back to that video of the funeral/marriage. What's going on there? Is martyrdom being rewarded? Are the souls of the dead being placated? Actually, it rather looks as if the event is political.
The opening moments of the subtitled video show a man at a podium leading events at Raed Jaradat's public funeral. He announces that Jaradat's father is asking Danya Irshid's father "for his daughter's hand in marriage for [his son] the martyr in Paradise." Even as this man is speaking, however, the camera swoops from him to a row of seated mourners, where it rests on the father of Danya Irshid while he is still in his seat. This is clearly rehearsed. While one would assume the families would consult in advance on such an unusual event, the cameraman seems to have been in on the consultation: He knows in advance what the man at the podium will say, who everyone is, where they are sitting, and where to point his camera. He does so not as a reaction to the dramatic announcement, but in anticipation of it.
The rest of the video plays out the macabre scene. The grieving fathers are hoisted onto shoulders; upbeat music, the disc, convenient to hand, begins to play, and the announcer describes the happy events as they have supposedly just taken place in the world beyond this one.
"We congratulate [the martyrs] Raed and Danya in Paradise," he says excitedly. "We congratulate them. They are in the company of the prophets for all eternity. We congratulate them. They are in the company of the prophets for all eternity. From today, Danya is Danya Irshid, or rather, Jaradat, and from today, Raed is Raed Irshid."
Maybe the families involved in this event decided to marry their deceased children to one another, and later decided to videotape the event and post it to a pro-Palestinian website. Maybe the families later produced and distributed posters as a commemoration of the notable event and an implied exhortation to other potential martyrs. Or maybe this is a Pallywood production.
"Pallywood" is a term invented by the Boston University academic Richard Allen Landes that addresses often-controversial footage involving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (the Muhammed al-Durra case remains among the most contested of these); he defines it as "a term I coined… to describe staged material disguised as news." According to this view of Palestinian media, a cadre of video producers, cameramen, and editors re-shape footage and stage-manage events in support of the Palestinian cause.
Is the marriage of Raed Jaradat and Danya Irshid a staged political event disguised as a uniquely sublime celebration of martyrdom? Those who are in Paradise know best.