Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1228, (8 - 14 January 2015)
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1228, (8 - 14 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Christmas in Gaza

Gaza’s Christians feel cut off from their relatives in the West Bank but are at home with their Muslim neighbours in the beleaguered Strip, writes Ahmad Al-Sayed from Gaza

Al-Ahram Weekly

Like Muslims in Gaza, Christians complain of the deteriorating economy, of Israel’s travel restrictions and military incursions, and also of inter-Palestinian bickering. They say that when Israel fires its missiles into the beleaguered Strip, inhabited by 1.8 million people, the resulting carnage doesn’t differentiate between Muslims and Christians.

In Gaza, Christians are free to celebrate Christmas, but those who want to visit family and friends in the West Bank, or attend the spectacular celebrations at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, find themselves at a disadvantage. Israel only allows a small number of Palestinians to visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and only after rigorous security checks.

“Here in Gaza there is no difference between Muslims and Christians. We live together in amity. Our only problem is with the occupation, the incursions and the blockade,” said Salama Saba, 64, who lives in the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in northern Gaza.

“I am no different from my Muslim neighbours because I grew up with them. We belong to the same nation. Our only goal is to liberate Palestine,” he said. “When the electricity goes out in the house of my Muslim neighbours, it goes out in my house too.”

Saba lost his son and house in one of Israel’s incursions. “My house was demolished in the 2008-2009 war on the pretext that it was being used as a weapons depot by Hamas. [Israeli] planes killed my son who was tending to the wounded at the time,” he said, referring to Operation Cast Lead, launched on 27 December 2008. The 22-day offensive left 1,500 Palestinians dead and wounded 5,000.

Saba, who is Catholic, lamented the fact that many Christians in Gaza find it impossible to visit their relatives in the West Bank. “I cannot visit Jerusalem or Bethlehem during the holidays. The occupation authorities prevent me from travel and have placed my name on travel-ban lists.”

Israel allowed 700 Christians from Gaza to enter the West Bank during Christmas celebrations this year. No one between the ages of 16 and 35 was given permission to leave Gaza.

Fouad Ayyad, 27, works for the Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza. He says that Muslims and Christians in Gaza live together in harmony. “We are one nation. Religion belongs to God, but the homeland belongs to all of us,” he said.

Ayyad is upset over the deteriorating economy and lack of jobs, afflictions for which he blames both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. “I want to emigrate to a country where I will be treated with respect, such as America,” he said. “[President] Abbas and [Hamas Politburo Chairman] Haniyeh haven’t done anything for me.”

Most of Gaza’s Christian inhabitants, currently numbering 1,200, live in the older parts of Gaza City and near Shatei Camp. The majority of Gaza’s Christians are Greek Orthodox, followed by Catholics, Baptists and Anglicans.

Jabr Al-Jilda is the director of religious relations at the Greek Orthodox Church. He also says that Gaza’s Christians live in peace and harmony with their Muslim compatriots. “We live a normal life, enjoying the respect, appreciation and good treatment of everyone. It is indeed hard to distinguish between Christians and Muslims,” he said.

During a recent Sunday mass, the Greek Orthodox Church was filled with worshippers of all ages. It is one of the largest and oldest churches in Gaza. Built in the year 402 AD, it is adjacent to a 14th-century mosque in Zeitoun, one of Gaza’s oldest neighbourhoods.

With children holding candles and walking past the iconic images of Jesus and Mary plastered on ancient walls, the place had an air of normalcy that betrayed the turbulence that has gripped Gaza for years.

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