Wednesday, 24 December 2014

After the war, a bittersweet Christmas in Gaza


GAZA CITY (AFP) -- A garland in hand, 11-year-old Sara decorates the family Christmas tree with her parents. But this year, the young Palestinian in Gaza will be spending the rest of the holiday alone.

Her family applied for Israeli permits to leave the Gaza Strip and travel to Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas in the not-so-little town in the occupied West Bank where Jesus was born.

Although her parents received them, she and her older brother and sister did not.

This year, Israel granted around 500 permits to Palestinian Christians, allowing them to travel from Gaza to the West Bank so they can visit Bethlehem's Nativity church and attend the traditional midnight mass.

"Christmas is a happy time but it's also a bit sad because I didn't get the permit to go with my parents," Sara admits.

Her mother, Abeer Mussad, spoke of a "joy tinged with sadness" as she and her husband celebrate Christmas Day in Bethlehem without their children who will on Thursday be "meeting Santa at church in Gaza".

"He will give us our presents," says Sara who will stay with her older sister and celebrate Christmas at St Porphyrius Greek Orthodox church in Gaza City.

In Gaza, the adults have done everything they can to ensure the holiday is not spoilt, but nobody can forget the deadly 50-day summer war which killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians and left the densely populated territory in ruins.

"We're going to celebrate Christmas in order to forget the suffering of the war," says 60-year-old Umm George, who lost her sister in the conflict and will be one of those traveling to Bethlehem.

In streets which still bear the scars of war, shops are spruced up with Christmas decorations and ornamented trees covered in sweets take pride of place in front windows. more

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