Gaza's 'Santa Claus' spreads cheer among war-weary kids

Dressed in red and white, Sameh Wadi, a Muslim resident toured the streets, with many children following Wadi, a technology graduate and unwrapped presents and took photos with him.

Gaza's 'Santa Claus' spreads cheer among war-weary kids
World Bulletin / News Desk
 One day before Christmas, the children of Gaza City's Shujaya district woke up to find Santa Clause walking its streets, which were largely destroyed by Israeli forces this summer.

Dressed in Santa Clause's traditional red-and-white costume and sporting a long, white beard, Sameh Wadi, a Muslim resident of Shujaya, toured the neighborhood's rubble-filled streets in hopes of spreading holiday cheer among the children of the war-battered district.

"The Gaza Strip's children are deprived of the normal, happy life that most children in the rest of the world enjoy," Wadi, 27, told The Anadolu Agency.

Groups of children screaming in excitement followed Wadi, who has a degree in information technology, as he walked around ringing his bell, frequently stopping to unwrap presents and pose for pictures with the children.

"It's a good chance to bring some entertainment to Gaza's children, who feel frustrated and depressed," Wadi said. "Children around the world wait for Santa every year."

Shujaya was largely devastated by an Israeli offensive in July and August that left over 2,160 dead, 11,000 injured and thousands of homes destroyed.

The eastern Gaza City district was especially hard-hit by heavy Israeli shelling during the offensive, which ended with an August 26 cease-fire agreement between Israel and Palestinian resistance factions.

At least 72 Palestinians – including many children and women – were killed, and some 400 others injured by Israel's shelling of Shujaya, according to official Palestinian figures.

"The children here need moral support to cope with their complex, painful reality," Wadi said.

"But a real Santa Clause for these children would be any prominent world leader willing to visit Gaza and provide its children with the basic needs that they currently lack," he added.

The UN estimated earlier this year that more than 400,000 children in the beleaguered Gaza Strip were in need of psychological counseling after having endured three major Israeli offensives within the past six years.

Santa Clause is a rare sight in the predominantly-Muslim Gaza Strip, which is home to some 1.9 million Palestinians.

Unofficial figures estimate that 2,000 Christian Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, some two thirds of whom are Eastern Romanian Orthodox, meaning they celebrate Christmas in early January.

The remaining third belong to the Catholic Church.

Some 500 Christian Gazans left the blockaded coastal enclave through the Erez border crossing after having obtained Israeli permission to attend Christmas celebrations in the occupied city of Bethlehem, said to be the birthplace of Jesus.

They will join thousands of Christmas pilgrims for an annual Christmas Eve Mass to be held at midnight in Bethlehem's Church of Nativity.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as a number of foreign officials, are scheduled to attend the rite.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 24 Aralık 2014, 15:56