'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
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss