Gazans gather to light up Christmas tree

Last year's event was cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic

Gazans gathered to light up a Christmas tree on Friday evening at a Christian youth centre, an event that was cancelled last year because of the coronavirus lockdown.

Families attended the celebration organised by the YMCA. Children wore red hats and played with balloons in the shape of Father Christmas to the sound of carols.

The Christian population in the coastal enclave is about 1,100, down from about 3,000 in 2007. About 70 per cent of Christians in Gaza are Greek Orthodox, while the rest belong to the Roman Catholic community.

“Peace and justice are needed in Gaza," Fr Gabriel Romanelli, the parish priest at Holy Family Church in Gaza, told The National. “The Gaza Strip is the biggest prison in the world, but the sound of celebration that we are listening to today is proof of happiness and assurance this nation can live despite the wars, injustice and siege.”

After two hours of festivities, the giant Christmas tree was illuminated by Archbishop Alexios of the Orthodox Church.

“We lived a difficult year," Samer Tarazi, 41, told The National. "We lived through the war and the bad economic situation because of Covid-19 but all of that will not prevent us from celebrating and enjoying. We live in hope.

“Unfortunately, our celebrations are limited to closed places. We don’t have freedom of movement to the West Bank and Bethlehem.”

Usually, Gazan Christians apply for permission to Israeli authorities to spend Christmas Eve in Bethlehem with their relatives and friends.

“We applied for 722 permits for Christians from Gaza and we are waiting for approval,” Kamel Ayad, the director of public relations at the Orthodox Church in Gaza, told The National.

“Unfortunately, the Israeli authorities don't approve permissions for the whole family. Sometimes, they give approval for children only, or one or two members of the family."

Israel's military unit dealing with Palestinian civilian affairs said in a statement that the entry of 500 Christians to visit their families in East Jerusalem and the West Bank has been approved.

Haneen AlJilda, 21, was granted a permit last year that allowed her and her brother to go, but not their parents.

“I like to spend Christmas with friends and relatives, and hope this year all my family will get approval to go to Bethlehem together,” Ms AlJilda told The National.

Updated: December 12th 2021, 12:27 PM