'Santa empty-handed' for Christmas in Gaza

As Gaza's Greek Orthodox community prepares to celebrate its Christmas Day today, it's clear there has rarely been a bleaker festive season for the Strip's little Christian community than this year.

Even under occupation, it used to celebrate Christmas openly, though without the pomp and commercialism of the West. In the centre of Gaza City, a giant Christmas tree used to stand adorned with ornaments, and Santa Claus passed out gifts to people in streets. Today, the municipality is unable to afford a tree.

Nor were there many decorations for Catholics and Baptists, the other two main Gaza denominations, to take down yesterday Twelfth Night in the Western Christian calendar.

Fr Manuel Musallam, the Roman Catholic head of the Holy Family School, a private Catholic institution attended by both Christian and Muslim Palestinians, said: "Each year, we decorate our school in Christmas colours [red and green]. Not this year. Paper and drawing materials are scarce due to the Israeli border closures and siege. And if we happen to find supplies at the market, we cannot afford them."

However, Fr Musallam added: "Instead of chocolate, Santa Claus [has been] giving strawberry plants. We used to offer chocolate to our children at the school. But now because of the Israeli siege, no chocolate is available. Strawberries by contrast have been cheap and plentiful because many destined for Europe have been prevented by the Israelis from being exported."

He lamented the lack of money or supplies for celebration, adding: "Santa Claus is empty handed ... insolvent this year."

Last night was Christmas Eve for the Greek Orthodox community. It coincided with the miserable news that Gazans will now be forced to live without electricity eight hours a day because Israel is cutting fuel supplies to the territory's only electric plant. Israel said the cutback was meant to send a "stern message" to Gaza militants to stop their ongoing rocket attacks on southern Israel.

The church's Sunday school headmaster, Jaber al-Jilda, insisted that Hamas, which seized control in Gaza last June, has never interfered with Christian celebrations. "In fact last year, as the year before, they came and offered Christmas greetings at our church to the entire congregation." But he added: "We cannot celebrate and at the same time watch as a funeral of another killed by Israeli cccupation passes in front of our church."

Mr Jilda has been coaching 17 students in the re-creation of the nativity story to be performed on Christmas Eve in a sanctuary shared with Muslims. On Friday the building is a Mosque on Sunday, a church. Merkiana Tarazi, 16, one of the students participating in the play, said: "I don't feel like celebrating Christmas. In the absence of safety and peace, even if I wear new clothes, inside I still won't be happy." Like many in Gaza with family in Israel, Jordan or the West Bank, Merkiana will have to celebrate without key family members. Her older sister, attending Beirzeit University in the West Bank, cannot come home for Christmas, "because of the Israeli siege", she says.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
Sport
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
music
News
i100
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Manager - R&D - Paint

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This growing successful busines...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Advisor - Automotive Parts

£16400 - £17500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading online E-commerce ...

Recruitment Genius: Automotive Parts Manager

£27300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a leading...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Customer Service Advisor

£22000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading boiler ...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea