6 January 2008 21:39
'Santa empty-handed' for Christmas in Gaza
By Mohammed Omer in Gaza
Published: 07 January 2008
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.