Jerusalem: Sunday brought a different kind of pre-wedding jitters for one Israeli couple.
Instead of fretting over hairdos and guest arrangements, Morel Malka and Mahmoud Mansour spent the morning of their wedding in court, trying to keep right-wing Zionist extremists from ruining their special night.
Amid the tension of Israel's fragile ceasefire with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, the intimacy of Morel and Mahmoud has become a national political issue.
The crux of it: she comes from a Jewish family; he's a Muslim Arab.
When the Jaffa couple in their 20s posted their wedding invitation on Facebook, they just wanted to share their good news.
Instead, it attracted the attention of Jewish extremists avowed to preventing mixed marriage – especially Jewish women marrying Arab men. And especially when they have converted to Islam, as Ms Malka has done.
Run by ultra-nationalist Jewish activists, the group called Lehava is dedicated to what it calls "preventing assimilation in the Holy Land", although it works against Israel's Arab citizens on other issues as well. Some of its supporters openly follow the teachings of Meir Kahane, a Jewish extremist assassinated in New York in 1990.
Kahane's doctrines are outlawed in Israel as racist and various offshoots of his political party are considered terrorist organisations in Israel and abroad.
Members called for a demonstration outside the wedding hall in the city of Rishon Lezion on Sunday evening as the couple was being wed.
"Assimilation is nothing to celebrate," right-wing activist Bentzi Gopstein told Israeli media.
According to media, Facebook removed the group's page last month following repeated complaints that it encouraged incitement and racism. On Sunday evening it was back up, calling on supporters to attend the protest against the wedding.
A court granted the group permission to protest but ordered protesters to stay about 200 metres from the wedding hall's entrance.
Although heavy police forces were deployed at the site, the family hired security guards at their own expense. The war in Gaza has exacerbated an already high level of intolerance among right-wing extremists in Israel.
Other Israelis gathered outside the wedding on Sunday, but for the opposite reason.
Responding to a Facebook call to attend a "vigil of love" for Morel and Mahmoud's wedding, dozens of people from around the country showed their support with flowers, balloons and hand-painted signs congratulating the couple.
"This is an act of elementary humanism," organiser Noga Eitan said. "We are here to show basic decency and sound a liberal voice," she said, adding it was a pity that even a wedding should become a political act in Israel.
Despite bitter political differences, "incitement, violence and racism have no place in Israeli society", said President Reuven Rivlin, who wished the couple happiness and good fortune.
In the end, the couple was married, in the presence of hundreds of guests, as well as hundreds of demonstrators and police on the footpaths outside.
Right-wing protesters, exclusively men, shouted their objections through bullhorns, although under the court order, they were kept away from the hall. Four were detained for getting too close. If their protest was heard, it did not stop the marriage.
"We want to have a great wedding, one that no one has ever had," the bridegroom was quoted as saying before the wedding. "No one can break us."
Los Angeles Times