Bethlehem 2003 - In Santa Outfit, Hamas Members Mark Christmas - Arafat's keffiyah drapes empty chair at midnight mass
Hamas was "dropping gifts on Christian orphans" as "relations between Muslims and Christians turned further closer"
In Santa Outfit, Hamas Members Mark Christmas
By Yasser Al Banna, IOL Correspondent
GAZA CITY, December 24 (IslamOnline.net) – A group of Islamic resistance movement Hamas in Bethlehem put on the famous red and white fur Santa hats and Santa suits, dropping gifts on Christian orphans, in a token of love and religious tolerance where the Christian tradition has it Jesus was born on December 25.
As Christmas in the Palestinian areas this year saw no much difference from earlier years – the same dampened atmosphere of festivity hijacked by long-standing occupation prevails - relations between Muslims and Christians turned further closer.
"It is a humanitarian national initiative that we really appreciate," Atallah Hannah of the Greek Orthodox Church in occupied Jerusalem told IslamOnline.net.
Hannah added that the move sends a clear message to the effect that all festivals and holidays there would be marked by real happiness only after the end of Israeli occupation.
For Hamas leaders, the initiative - that was taken on an individual spontaneous basis by some of the group members – sharing the joy with Christians came as no surprise.
"We are keeping continuous contacts with Christians. Hamas represents all Palestinians," the group's spokesman Mohamed Ghazal said.
"We are living with the same concerns. We even acted in once voice even at the times of the Crusades," Ghazal said.
And Christians have always acted in no different manner.
Worshippers headed to Bethlehem Wednesday for the traditional Christmas midnight mass with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat once again absent from the festivities due to his confinement by Israeli occupation forces.
Arafat was a regular guest at midnight mass after his return to the Palestinian territories in 1994 but he has been unable to attend since he was confined to his offices in the West Bank town of Ramallah by the Israeli army in early December 2001.
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Monsignor Michel Sabbah, who presided over the mass service, paid a visit to Arafat on Tuesday during which he appealed for an end to the siege.
"We came here to say to President Arafat Happy New Year and to ask God to grant you liberty and to grant liberty for this land," Sabbah had said in a brief address at Arafat's headquarters.
As Sabbah began his traditional procession from the holy city to Jesus Christ's birthplace, crowds of Christians and Muslims were gathering in Manger Square to mark the occasion.
Noticeably, the strong relations were boosted by Israeli occupation forces, also extending their aggressions to Christians and Muslims alike.
"Ties between Muslims and Christians are time-honored, and our hearts move towards the Rafah massacre," said Bethlehem mayor Hannah Nasser.
Nasser was referring to the massive Israeli incursion into southern Gaza Strip one day earlier, where 10 people were slain and more, 40 injured and many others displaced.
He said that decorations in celebration of the Christian festival would be "limited" because the Israeli siege of the city is still in place.
Christians from the Gaza Strip had not been given permission to travel to Bethlehem since the start of the Intifada against occupation in September 2000, and Israel also denied access also to Muslims into the holy city.
"When the Israeli warplanes hit Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, they drew no distinction between Muslims and Christians," said Nasser.
No wonder, the two faiths have move together in parallel and against one threat, as had been clearly manifested in a traditional religious march against Israeli attempts to build a barrier isolating Bethlehem from occupied Jerusalem and taking over a mosque under Israeli authority.