Israel bans Palestinian Christians from Gaza in joining Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem
Dozens of Christians based in the besieged Gaza Strip have been banned by Israeli authorities from travelling to the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem and joining Christmas celebrations with their relatives.
Speaking to The New Arab, the official at the Orthodox church in Gaza, Elias al-Gelda, said, "Israel refused to issue permits for at least 382 Christians to leave the blockaded territory through the Israeli-controlled Erez."
However, he stressed, "Israel claimed that it issued about 518 permits to Gazan Christians, while the truth said that most of those who received their permits are already out of Gaza for years, with some of them were dead people."
"Every year, Israel increases its refusals to issue permits for us in Gaza under the pretext of security," he said. "It tries to tighten its procedures against us to leave our land and empty the coastal enclave from a Christian existence."
Currently, there are about 1,000 Christians in Gaza despite the complicated political and economic situations resulting from the consequences of the illegal Israeli blockade.
In comparison, more than 3,500 Christian people lived in the coastal enclave before the Israeli-Egyptian blockade was implemented in 2007, according to al-Gelda.
Suhaila Tarazi, a Gaza-based Christian woman, was shocked for the eighth year in a row to be banned from heading to Bethlehem to meet her sons, brothers, and relatives.
"I do not know the reasons for my ban … I am a mother and a housewife who does involve in any political activities in Gaza," the 49-year-old mother of two said to TNA.
She bemoaned how she has not seen her family members for over a decade.
Nabil Saba, another Gaza-based Christian man, told TNA that his family has been divided by the Israeli procedures, as a part of them celebrates Christmas in Gaza, while the other part is in the West Bank and Bethlehem.
"Israeli authorities deliberately assault our rights, not only because we are Christian people but also because we are Palestinians who hold their land and their right to live in peace and security," the 55-year-old man stressed.
"We insisted on celebrating as much as we can either in Gaza or in the West Bank to prove to Israel that we will not leave our life in Gaza even if it witnesses hard conditions now," he added.
Tarazi and al-Gelda were among dozens of Christians who attended the lightening of the Christmas tree held Saturday evening at the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in an official announcing the beginning of Christmas celebrations in Gaza.
"All Gazans have the right to practice their religious rites and access their churches and mosques in all Palestinian territories, including Bethlehem, Hebron, and Jerusalem," Raji al-Sourani, a Gaza-based official of al-Dameer Center for Human Rights, said to TNA.
"The Israeli occupation has been violating all the human rights of the Palestinians," Sourani said and called for the international community to politically punish Israel and isolate it from the world.