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Jewish-Muslim wedding brings out bitter Israel tensions

Mahmud and Morel never imagined that on the happiest day of their lives, they would walk down the aisle to racist chants by extremists opposed to the marriage of a Muslim and a Jew.

RISHON LETZION: Mahmud and Morel never imagined that on the happiest day of their lives, they would walk down the aisle to racist chants by extremists opposed to the marriage of a Muslim and a Jew.

Their Sunday (Aug 17) night wedding near Tel Aviv was marred by the bitter shouting of several hundred young protesters who joined a rally called for by Lehava, an extremist rightwing Israeli group that fights against intermarriage.

Dressed in T-shirts bearing racist slogans and whipped up by weeks of war in Gaza, the demonstrators played cat and mouse with around 100 policemen trying to stop them from insulting and abusing the happy couple and their guests.

Supporters of the young couple handed out flowers and waved signs reading: "Love conquers all" and "Jew and Muslims refuse to be enemies."

"Death to Arabs!" yelled back the protestors who waved giant Israeli flags.

The ugly confrontation made headlines and was carried live on national television in microcosm of the tensions which have been tearing at the seams of Israeli society, particularly over the past two months.

The love story between this 26-year-old Israeli Romeo and his 23-year-old Juliet began five years ago when businessman Mahmud Mansur met Morel Malka. He is Muslim, she is Jewish, but has since converted to Islam.

Although they knew their union would spark family tensions, they had no way of knowing that it would become a catalyst for nationwide tensions further exacerbated by weeks of deadly fighting in Gaza. And they had no idea of the storm that would erupt after they posted details of their forthcoming nuptials on Facebook, triggering calls by Lehava for demonstrators to storm their wedding hall.

"Nothing will break us, we'll have a wonderful marriage, the most beautiful that you can imagine," Mahmud said before the ceremony.

Before the main reception, the family pushed back the furniture inside their small apartment in the ancient port town of Jaffa, known for its mixed Jewish-Arab population, decorated the room and laid out sweet pastries on plates.

Dressed in an ornate white and silver dress with a plunging cleavage, her arms bare, the bride entered the room as music played and was warmly swept up in an affectionate embrace by her soon-to-be inlaws.

"Morel is my second daughter, I had just one and now I have two!" smiled Mohammed Mansur as he gazed on his son's bride.

'NOTHING TO CELEBRATE'

But Morel's father was not there. He had already announced on television that he would not attend "his daughter's marriage to an Arab."Her fiancé had spent most of the day at court in Rishon LeTzion in an attempt to prevent the expected demonstration from happening.

His lawyer explained all the attempts to intimidate and harass the couple in recent days, but the judge allowed the protest to go ahead, on condition it took place some 200 metres from the wedding hall.

The affair, which was splashed across the local media, even reached the ears of President Reuven Rivlin, who said the incitement against them was "outrageous and worrying."

"Mahmud and Morel from Jaffa decided to get married and live out their existence in a democratic state. Expressions of incitement against them are outrageous and worrying," said Rivlin, who holds far-right views but is known as a staunch defender of democracy. "Not everybody has to join in the joy of Mahmud and Morel but everyone must treat them with dignity," he wrote on his Facebook page, wishing the couple "health, peace and joy."

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said such expressions of hatred made her ashamed. "This kind of extremism is unbearable," she told public radio.

The couple employed bodyguards who had to verify the guest list and even frisk hundreds of guest, who had to push their way through a crowd of demonstrators. "This is a wedding but there is nothing to celebrate because assimilation is a scourge," said Lehava head Bentzi Gopstein in reference to Jews and non-Jews mixing.