Gaza (AsiaNews / Agencies ) - Christians living in Gaza are a mere 73 km from Bethlehem, but for most of them it is impossible to celebrate Christmas in the place where Jesus was born. As is now the case every year, in 2013 the Israeli government once again rejected hundreds of visa applications forwarded by Greek - Orthodox and Catholic Churches .
Suzy and Samer, are a young Orthodox couple . She is 22 years old, he 30. Both fall within the travel ban for religious festivals and to visit relatives living in the West Bank for Palestinians between 16 and 35. However, for years they have been sending their request to go to Bethlehem, even if it is rejected. Interviewed by the online newspaper Al- Monitor, Suzy said: "We were hoping to spend Christmas at the Church of the Nativity. But this seems impossible. There is very little festive spirit here in Gaza because of the economic situation and the limited scope of celebrations". Samer added that "it is every Christian's dream to spend the holiday in Bethlehem. Geographically, we are very close to the city, yet it is impossible to go there".
The Greek - Orthodox bishop Alexios says: "I have lived in Gaza for the past 12 years. I have witnessed all the wars and am now a witness to the harsh blockade imposed on the city and its inhabitants. I ask world powers to permit citizens of the Strip to exit and enter normally; for love is everywhere, but we must see it in our hearts." He added that the church submits applications each and every year, but approval is not his to give, and came from the authorities. He believes that the main problem lies in the war between the two peoples, leading to this blockade and a situation that affects mostly young people.
Jabr al- Jaldeh , head of religious relations of the Greek Orthodox church in Gaza, says that thousands Christians of all denominations have requested permission to travel to Bethlehem through the Patriarchate of Jerusalem on January 7. Some have received the visa, but 214 young people were rejected because their age ranged between 16 and 35 years.
For 2013, the Islamist Hamas government made some concessions to Christians, allowing them to decorate some stores and to erect a Christmas tree in the city these days hit by a devastating flood that flooded most of the Gaza Strip. However, the celebrations permitted are limited to the secular while the religious festivities are confined to churches.
Lisa al- Souri, 20, and her husband of 27 Tarek are a couple of Catholics. Like the rest of the youth of Gaza's Christians they celebrated their last Christmas in Bethlehem more than 10 years ago. Lisa does note, however, that now it is also difficult to celebrate Christmas in Gaza itself. "In 2005 - she says - a large lighted tree was erected in the city center and everyone participated in the celebrations. Unfortunately, this dates back some eight years ago. This was eight years ago. Instead of wishing to go to Bethlehem and celebrate there, I wish to celebrate as a Christian here in Gaza with the rest of the people, just as we did in the past".