'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
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas