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    » 12/27/2013, 00.00

    PALESTINE

    Gaza Christians banned from Bethlehem and celebrations even at Christmas



    The desire of all Gaza Christians to celebrate Christmas in the place where Jesus was born. The Israeli government bans young people between 16 and 35 years from travelling to the West Bank for religious holidays. Hamas makes concessions for Christmas, but only for the secular aspect. The religious festival relegated to churches.

    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".

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    See also

    27/12/2008 PALESTINE - ISRAEL
    Tens of thousands of pilgrims in Bethlehem for Christmas
    The celebration unfolded peacefully, under the control of the Palestinian police. The number of tourists is up in the city. But tension remains high in the surrounding area.

    27/12/2010 ISRAEL – PALESTINE
    Record number of pilgrims visits Bethlehem as thousands throng Manger Square for Mass
    Israeli authorities say some 100,000 visitors took part in Christmas festivities this year, twice as many as last year. This was the merriest Christmas in the past ten years, since 28 September 2000 that is when the second intifada broke out. The area’s economy is also picking up steam.

    07/12/2004 PALESTINE
    Palestinian Christians fear their country might become an Islamic state


    23/12/2003 palestine - christmas
    Bethlehem, sad and isolated. Christians emigrate


    22/12/2009 PALESTINE
    Gaza Christians hoping to go to Bethlehem for Christmas
    Israel announces the issuance of special permits for the holidays. Delivery maybe 23 or 24 December. Only a year ago, 3 thousand Christians in Gaza were preparing to face the bombs of Cast Lead. Father Musallam, parish priest during the war: the permission to go to Bethlehem would be "a sign of hope for our families."



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