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'Santa empty-handed' for Christmas in Gaza

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/article3315046.ece 6 January 2008 21:39 Santa empty-handed for Christmas in Gaza By Mohammed Omer in Gaza
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 6, 2008
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      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.
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