Gazans gather to light up the Christmas tree

Gazans gathered to light a Christmas tree on Friday night at a Christian youth center, an event that was canceled last year due to the coronavirus shutdown.

Families attended the celebration hosted by the YMCA. The children wore red hats and played with Santa Claus-shaped balloons to the sound of Christmas carols.

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

“Peace and justice are needed in Gaza,” said Father Gabriel Romanelli, pastor of the Church of the Holy Family in Gaza. The National. “The Gaza Strip is the largest prison in the world, but the sound of the celebration we listen to today is proof of the happiness and assurance that this nation can live despite wars, injustice and siege.

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

“We have had a difficult year,” said Samer Tarazi, 41. The National. “We have lived through the war and the bad economic times because of the Covid-19 but all this will not prevent us from celebrating and enjoying. We live in hope.

“Unfortunately, our celebrations are limited to closed places. We do not have freedom of movement to the West Bank and Bethlehem.

Usually, Christians in Gaza seek permission from the Israeli authorities to spend Christmas Eve in Bethlehem with their relatives and friends.

“We have applied for 722 permits for Christians in Gaza and are awaiting approval,” said Kamel Ayad, public relations director of the Gaza Orthodox Church. The National.

“Unfortunately, the Israeli authorities do not approve permits for the whole family. Sometimes they give their approval for the children only, or for one or two family members. “

The Israeli military unit responsible for Palestinian civil affairs said in a statement that the entry of 500 Christians to visit their families in East Jerusalem and the West Bank had been approved.

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

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

Updated: December 12, 2021, 12:27

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