Merry Christmas from Palestine, Gaza
When I was a very young girl, I used to climb the window and stretch my arm out, trying to collect some rain in my small hand, then sip it, believing that it was the purest ever. I remembered this as I was listening to the raindrops hitting my room’s windows, which I made sure were securely closed, to keep the cold wind from blowing inside and disturbing the warmth my body felt under my heavy blankets.
Meanwhile, I could hear mum talking quietly from the room just next door, but couldn’t recognize exactly what she was saying. She suddenly paused and called me to join her and seize the chance to pray, as in Islam it’s said that prayers are more likely to come true while rain is falling. I closed my eyes as tight as I could and listened to her sincere prayers for us to accomplish all that we dream, for all sick and injured people to recover soon, for all dead to reach heaven, and for Palestine, from the sea to the river, to be free. As I could only hear mum’s voice along with the raindrops, a harmonic atmosphere spread around me, and my lips moved in silence, “Amen”.
Being a Muslim, I never celebrated Christmas myself, but having lots of Christian friends inside and outside Palestine has connected me to this day. I’ve always shared it with them one way or another, since I believe that religion shouldn’t stand as a barrier between human beings. Religion is to call for love, compassion, and tolerance. It should unite people, not divide them. Sadly, not all that is said is done. Three years ago, people around the world welcomed Christmas and the New Year happily with lights, colorful balloons and fireworks while Gaza received it with white phosphorous lighting the dark sky and rivers of bloods spilled by the Israeli Occupation Forces.
Even though I am Muslim, I’ve always appreciated the beauty of Christmas trees, lights, gatherings, meals and religious songs that I see Christians perform in the Christmas movies I watched. On this rainy and windy day, which I knew was Christmas, I wished that Gaza’s sky would snow so that it would be a typical Christmas day like movies made me picture. For an observer like me, snow adds a factor of beauty to Christmas celebrations, even though my Christians friends abroad would sometimes complain about it. I don’t blame them, though, as I have never seen any snow and never experienced its negative side.
I spent this Christmas Eve with Lydia and Joe, two of our Christian friends who came to Gaza in solidarity with Palestine, and in support of Palestinian people who live under the Israeli Occupation. My family and I didn’t hesitate to bring Christmas gifts and share this special day with them, as a form of appreciation for their indescribable humanity as they chose to celebrate it in the besieged Gaza Strip rather than joining their families on such a holy occasion.
Approximately three thousand people among Gaza’s population are Christians. Recently, I made new friends among them, a Christian family that I met through a funny coincidence. A couple of months ago, I was walking with my Greek friend Mack, who came to Gaza as a solidarity activist, and we passed a dress shop named Kopella. The name attracted Mack’s eyes, as it happened to be a Greek word for a young lady. He dragged me inside the shop, which we learned was owned by a Christian family named Alsalfiti. He was very curious to know if they knew what the word means, and it turned that they have a daughter studying in Greece, who chose this name for their shop.
Around a week ago, I visited the Al-Salfiti family with Joe and Lydia, who were interested to know how Christians in Gaza celebrate Christmas. The first thing my eyes glimpsed was a beautifully decorated plastic tree that was placed in the corner of their house to welcome Christmas. “I brought this from Bethlehem five years ago,” Lili, the mother, told me while pointing at the tree after she noticed my surprise.
“We used to get permits from the Israeli Occupation to Bethlehem every Christmas, to celebrate it in the Church of Nativity with our relatives who live there,” Abu Wade’ the father, said. “But that can no longer happen. After Shalit was captured by the resistance, people from 16 to 35 weren’t allowed to go. So my kids haven’t been able to join us in Bethlehem for more than five years. Many people are denied permission for the reasons of security, but no one knows what the security reasons are. For example, my wife and I applied a little while ago. She got permission, but I didn’t.”
Lili interrupted with a frustrated voice, saying, “Only a range of three to five hundred Christians get permission.”
Abu Wade’ raised his voice: “Remember, no Muslim is allowed by the Israeli Occupation to pray in Al Aqsa, either on their religious holidays or any other days.”
While talking about Bethlehem, I recalled precious memories stuck in mind since I was nine years old, just before the Second Intifada started. Mum struggled to get permission from the Israeli Occupation to take me and my two elder siblings on a trip to the West Bank. She eventually did, and so we went. I recall the few hours I had inside the Church of Nativity, and how strongly spiritual it felt to be where the Christ was born. I remember how my eyes were captured by the beauty of the place and its architecture that is enriched with history. Once I recalled these memories with Mum, and she laughed at me, remembering how surprised I was to see people crying very hard. When I asked her about it innocently, she replied, “Christians cry while praying out of reverence, just like Muslims do.”
It is very painful to think of how close I am to the West Bank, but how far the Israeli Occupation makes it seem at the same time. If I were to ask Santa Claus for something that would come true, I would wish that I could step on every grain of sand in our historical Palestine, freely visit Jerusalem to pray in Al-Aqsa Mosque and enjoy the smell of its air and its charming, mountainous nature, and visit Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity. There are many beautiful, breathtaking scenes that I would love to draw as I see them in reality. I have faith that I will someday, once Palestine is free.
Dear Shahd, I am grateful for your reporting from Gaza. Having been raised in Chicago with all the Catholic traditions of Christmas, I know a lot about christian holidays, and almost nothing about Muslim holidays. I am curious about Muslim holidays and traditions, and what your food tastes like? I wonder if I will ever get to visit Gaza, and sit in a Palestinian home. The way that Gaza is cut off from the rest of the world seems so barbaric and cruel, it bothers me a lot. Shahd, I have been a Palestinian activist for over 8 years, and still I haven't met a single Palestinian. I want give you a big, warm, friendly greeting. I want to welcome you, and all Gazans, to visit my home in Oregon if you should ever get this way. I want to stand with Palestine, in the quest for human rights and dignity for all. Finally, I want to tell you how horribly uninformed, misinformed, and zombie-like many Americans are. I try my best to read from Palestinian news sources, and share with my friends some of what is actually going on in Palestine. So this New Years, I wish you to be strong and hopeful, knowing that people all over the world are watching, and listening, to the heartbeat that is Palestine.
December 26, 2011 at 7:57 am
very beautiful post… thank you for sharing.Merry Christmas to you and your Christian friends in Gaza, and Happy New Year! Insha'allah Palestine will once be free again.
December 27, 2011 at 6:57 am
Blessings of Light Love and Joy to you Shahd. This is a beautiful piece of heartfelt reflection, which truly captures Christ’s worldly mission, that we love one another as he loves us…Thank you dear Shahd.
December 24, 2012 at 1:54 am
As always Shahd your words capture the moment. It is such a shame that the advent of zionism has destroyed the Holy Land that was once a beacon of religious tolerance. Those that have hijacked Judaism now shame Judaism by persecuting the Palestinian Christian community as well as the Palestinian Muslim community. Our work continues to liberate Palestine, to return its people and to let it once again be that beacon it once was. God bless you, your family and all people this Christmas.
December 24, 2012 at 1:57 am
You are humble and respectful Shahd, much more than you may realize.
I wish I knew more ppl like you. Some of my friends’ think that the sky will fall if they wish a christian a Merry Christmas, yet their christian friends wish them a Happy Eid. What is more respectful, tolerant and kind than respecting and well wishing one from another religion? Justice and Freedom doesnt have a religion so we should not forget the Christians within Palestine as well. I wish every Christian Palestinian a very, very, very warm, peaceful Merry Christmas <3
December 24, 2012 at 2:22 am
Thanks sweet Maria for your kind words! Glad my message could reach your heart! Very Merry Christmas!
December 24, 2012 at 10:19 pm
It is really WOW ,I felt like it is from your heart . I didn’t even wonder what kopella mean!!!!! Wish u have that trip again you were lucky to have it !!!! Merry Christmas
December 24, 2012 at 10:10 pm
haha Kopella means a young girl in Greek. Glad you liked my post. Merry Christmas :))
December 24, 2012 at 10:20 pm