‘No Christmas Joy’ in Gaza

Henry

Palestinians said they are not experiencing “any joy” this Christmas after Israel bombed Gaza again on Monday. There is no end in sight to the war which, according to Hamas, has already claimed more than 20,000 lives.

Festivities in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, were largely scrapped. There are only a few tourists in the usually packed streets.

The Hamas-controlled health ministry said on Monday morning that Israeli strikes had claimed the lives of at least 18 people in Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip.

Fadi Sayegh, whose family had earlier received permits to travel to Bethlehem for the celebrations, said at a hospital in the city that he would not celebrate Christmas this year.

“There is no joy. No Christmas tree, no decorations, no family dinner, no celebrations,” he said while undergoing dialysis. “I pray that this war will soon be over.”

Sister Nabila Salah of the Catholic Church in Gaza, where two Christian women died earlier this month due to an Israeli sniper, according to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, also says that all Christmas celebrations have been cancelled. “How can we celebrate when we hear the sound of tanks and bombings instead of bells ringing?” she told AFP.

The war broke out when Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel on October 7, claiming the lives of some 1,140 people, mostly civilians. A total of 250 people were taken hostage, according to an AFP survey based on Israeli figures.

Israel pledged to eliminate Hamas and its military campaign in response, which included massive airstrikes. At least 20,424 people, mainly women and children, have already died, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Pope Francis began Christmas celebrations on Sunday with a plea for peace.

“We think of Gaza, of all the people in Gaza, but especially our Christian community in Gaza who are suffering,” said the Catholic leader.

Attack on Christmas Eve

The Hamas-controlled health ministry said at least 70 people were killed in an airstrike on the Al-Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza on Sunday.

Ashraf al-Qudra, spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said the “death toll is likely to rise”, as most families were in the area when the airstrike was launched.

The ministry said 10 members of one family were killed in a separate attack when an Israeli attack hit their home in the Jabaliya camp in northern Gaza.

AFP could not independently confirm any of the figures.

Large areas of Gaza have been left in ruins and its 2.4 million people have a serious shortage of water, food, fuel and medicine due to the Israeli attack. Their suffering is only alleviated by the limited arrival of relief trucks.

About 80% of Gaza residents are homeless, according to the United Nations. Most fled to the south and are now sheltering from the winter cold in temporary tents.

Filippo Grandi, head of the UN refugee agency, requested an end to the suffering.

“A humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza is the only way forward,” he wrote on X (Twitter). “War is beyond logic and humanity. It paves the way for a future full of hate and less peace.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, also requested a ceasefire. “The destruction of the Gaza health system is a tragedy.”

“no choice”

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, said on Sunday that the war “is a very heavy price to pay” and the death toll of soldiers in the conflict continues to rise.

“However, we have no choice but to keep fighting,” he said. “It’s going to be a long war.”

The army said on Monday that two more soldiers were killed. This brings the death toll to 17 of soldiers killed since Friday, and 156 since Israel’s ground offensive began on October 27.

Jonathan Conricus, spokesman for the Israeli army, said forces were on the verge of taking control in northern Gaza. “We are now focusing our efforts against Hamas in southern Gaza.”

Two persons who were in custody and were freed, and a paramedic said on Sunday that Palestinians held by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip are being tortured. The military strongly denies this. The two men were among hundreds of people detained by Israeli forces over alleged links to Hamas during Israel’s ground attacks.

About 20 men freed from Israeli custody “have scars and marks of blows on their bodies”, Marwan al-Hams, hospital director in the southern city of Rafah, told AFP.