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Israel prevents Palestinian Christians in Gaza from celebrating Christmas in West Bank

Palestinian Christians gather in front of a Christmas tree in the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) courtyard in Gaza City. [Photo by Yousef Masoud/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images]
Palestinian Christians gather in front of a Christmas tree in the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) courtyard in Gaza City. [Photo by Yousef Masoud/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images]

Israel has prevented 200 Palestinian Christians in Gaza from taking part in Christmas festivities in the occupied cities of Bethlehem, Jerusalem and the West Bank. The Greek Orthodox Church in the besieged enclave had sent a list of 800 names to the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee in Gaza requesting they be given permission to go to the West Bank to celebrate Christmas, Al-Monitor reported. However, Israel refused to grant entry permits to 200 Christian worshippers citing security concerns.

Thirty-seven-year-old Gazan, Karam Tarazi, is one of the many Palestinian Christians that were refused an entry permit by the Israeli occupation regime. Speaking to Al-Monitor, Tarazi slammed the "racist measures" that have prevented him from enjoying Christmas in the Christian holy cities in Palestine.

"This racist measure comes as part of the Israeli efforts to pressure Christians with the aim of separating families from Gaza and the West Bank and force them to leave Gaza," said Tarazi. He was able to go to the West Bank last year and participate in the celebrations, but this year he was denied an exit permit from the Gaza Strip.

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Tarazi had submitted a request with the Orthodox Church in Gaza to leave with his family to the West Bank to take part in the Christmas festivities. He expressed shock after discovering that he was among those banned from going to the West Bank. His family have refused to go without him.

"My family will not feel any joy this year. We will content ourselves with celebrating rituals, lighting candles and decorating the tree at home. We will also perform prayers in the church [in Gaza] and chant hymns, as well as greeting friends and family. We will prepare burbara, a local holiday sweet made of wheat and nuts offered to Christian and Muslim neighbours who will come to wish us a Merry Christmas," Tarazi is reported saying. Denouncing the decision, Tarazi said that the Israeli ban was unjustified since most Christians in Gaza do not have any political or factional affiliation.

Salah Abdel-Aty, head of the International Commission to Support Palestinian People's Rights, also expressed outrage in comments reported in Al-Monitor. "Israel's punitive measures against the Christians of Gaza is a violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, which force Israel to facilitate the travel and movement of citizens without restrictions," Abdel-Aty said.

Palestinian group Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, has issued a statement denouncing  Israel for preventing Christians from the Gaza Strip from accessing the holy places. "The Zionist ban is a flagrant violation of the rights of Christians to practice their religious rites, depriving them of their natural right to access places of worship," said Hamas. The movement called on the United Nations, the international community and human rights institutions to "assume their responsibility to stop the occupation state's violations against [our] Christian citizens, and the right of places of worship."

READ: Christians face threat of 'extinction' from 'radical' Israeli groups, warn church leaders

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