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Next year in Bethlehem: Gaza Christmas celebrated despite siege | Palestine News

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Gaza Strip – For yet another year, Gaza’s tiny Orthodox Christian minority will not be able to celebrate Christmas with a visit to Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.

With the ongoing Israeli siege on the enclave, Palestinians in Gaza are prohibited from uniting with family members in the West Bank, and are barred from visiting Bethlehem, where the Nativity Church is located.

Before Gaza fell under siege, “the days of Christmas were livelily celebrated – with the attendance of dignitaries – in large public squares with music, diverse shows, scout parades, a huge lit-up tree and tens of people dressed as Santa”, Samir Abu Nussira, a resident of Gaza, told Al Jazeera.

“The streets were beaming with joy and excitement, people were genuinely happy,” Nussira said.

“Back then, we used to celebrate at the Nativity Church, then visit our relatives in other parts of the West Bank on Christmas Eve,” Nussira continued. 

“This year, however, my wife and I petitioned [the Israeli authorities] to travel with our kids to Bethlehem for Christmas, but only my children received a permit to travel out of Gaza, while my wife and I were rejected.”





Permits for Christians to cross over from Gaza are subject to age restrictions [Walid Mahmoud/Al Jazeera]

Israel allows Christians to exceptionally petition to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), an Israeli military body that administers parts of the West Bank, to cross over from Gaza during the holiday season – but permits are rarely granted.

Petitioning does not guarantee acceptance, according to Kamel Ayyad, Director of Public Relations of the Orthodox Church in Gaza.





Twelve years ago, Gaza was home to more than 3,000 Christians, according to the Orthodox Church [Walid Mahmoud/Al Jazeera]

“This year, we submitted 1,000 petitions to visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem, but we received 104 rejections … with the Israelis citing ‘security concerns’, which if their usual pretext,” Ayyad told Al Jazeera.

“Some 350 people were accepted, and the rest never heard back about their applications,” he said.

“Most of those accepted were children, while their parents received rejections and were not granted permits to escort them,” Ayyad added.

He noted that Israel sets age criteria where petitioners need to be 18-years-old or younger, or 50 and older.

Still, many who were above 50-years-old had their petitions rejected, Ayyad said.

“There are no clear rules or processes here, and it’s only getting worse every year,” he said. “Israel does not differentiate between Muslim and Christian Palestinians. If you are merely Palestinian, you’ll continue to be subjected to Israel’s collective punishment, strict measures and travel bans.”

COGAT claims on its website that “freedom of worship and religion is part of the values Israel promotes, and we are working to promote their fulfilment”.

A statement from the Israeli government denied placing age restrictions on permits for Gaza’s Palestinian Christian residents to travel to the occupied West Bank.

“Permits are approved and issued in accordance with the relevant protocols and criteria, and are subject to standard security clearances,” the statement said.

‘One people’

Despite the challenges, Palestinians in Gaza come together and embrace the spirit of Christmas in a display of Palestinian unity.

This year, a pre-Christmas celebration was held at the front yard of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Gaza City on Saturday, where people from across the Palestinian political and social spectrum came to enjoy a celebratory evening.

A huge Christmas tree was neatly decorated and lit up, a young chorus performed several music tracks, scouts paraded with drums and Palestinian flags, and people of different ages dressed up as Santa Claus, including children.

“The occupation prevented us from celebrating in Bethlehem, but we nonetheless will continue to celebrate wherever we are,” Elias Al-Jilda, a YMCA board member, told Al Jazeera.

“Through our celebration, we show the world our love for life and our homeland, as we show that we, as one Palestinian people, will continue to seek dignity and freedom through the simplest of things.”





For some, lighting up the Christmas tree is a sign of hope for better things to come [Walid Mahmoud/Al Jazeera]

“Our presence here shows that we are one people, with no place for hate and discrimination between us,” Gaza’s Mayor Ibrahim Abu Al-Naja told Al Jazeera.

“Our days of happiness are few, but we should nonetheless always show our oppressor that despite the blockade, we will rejoice and light up the Christmas tree.”

For some, lighting up the Christmas tree is a sign of hope for better things to come.

“We greatly hope for a life of peace and security; where the blockade is lifted and the West Bank reunites with Gaza,” Majid al-Amsh, a YMCA member, told Al Jazeera.

Decreasing numbers

The old Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrius, in Gaza’s city centre, is preparing for the celebrations on December 25.

Twelve years ago, Gaza was home to more than 3,000 Christians; who held tight to their homes despite the hardships of living under occupation.





According to the Orthodox Church, the number of Gaza’s Christian community members barely exceeds 1,000 [Walid Mahmoud/Al Jazeera]

But the Israeli blockade – coupled with occasional Israeli air raids and scourges of violence – drove most to escape from the Gaza Strip over the years.

According to Ayyad from the Orthodox Church in Gaza, the number of Gaza’s Christian community members barely exceeds 1,000.

And those left in Gaza continue to be conflicted between continuing to endure a difficult life under the siege and following in the footsteps of others in exile.

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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Canada: Significant Changes To Canada’s Federal Environmental Protection Regime Proposed

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On April 13, 2021, the government of Canada proposed significant changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (“CEPA”)1 through the introduction of Bill C-28, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act (the “Amendments“).2

With these Amendments, the government hopes to modernize Canada’s environmental regime which has not undergone significant change in over 20 years. CEPA is the primary statute through which the federal government regulates and protects the environment. CEPA and its accompanying regulations regulate among other things the treatment and disposal of chemicals and hazardous waste, vehicle and engine emissions, equipment and other sources of pollution, and the prevention and impact of environmental emergencies such as oil and chemical spills.

This bulletin provides an overview of the major changes to CEPA that have been proposed.

The Right to a Healthy Environment and Certain Soft Rights

Significantly, the Preamble under the Amendments will officially recognize Canadians’ right to a healthy environment. Section 2 of CEPA will require the government to protect that right when making decisions relating to the environment.3

The Amendments set out specific obligations the government must undertake to safeguard this right, including developing an implementation framework to set out how this right will be considered in the administration of CEPA as well as conducting research, studies and monitoring activities to support this goal.

In addition, the Preamble will recognize some additional considerations, including confirming the government’s commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as well as recognizing the importance of considering vulnerable persons, reducing or replacing the use of animal testing, and the right of Canadians to have access to information on product labels.

Project Impact Assessment

With respect to risk assessments under CEPA, under the new provisions the federal government must consider impacts on vulnerable populations and possible cumulative effects of the proposed conduct. Vulnerable populations will include groups of people with elevated biological susceptibility, such as children, and groups with elevated exposure risks, such an indigenous communities. Consideration of cumulative effects of proposed conduct takes a holistic approach to substance management by considering the compounding risks of exposure to various chemicals during daily life rather than looking at substances on their own.

Chemicals Management

The federal government has identified the management of chemicals as a key target area under the new CEPA.

The Amendments thus propose to overhaul this regime in order to better protect Canadians from the evolving risks of harmful chemicals and pollution. To accomplish this, the government has proposed wide ranging changes relating to risk assessment, public accountability, management of toxic substances and new substances, which are discussed in turn below.

Risk Assessment

The government must consult, develop and publish a Plan of Chemicals Management Priorities which will set out an integrated plan for the risk assessment of various chemical substances currently being used in Canada. The Plan will establish priorities for the management of substances, taking into account a number of factors including among others the views of stakeholders and partners, public comments, the effects on vulnerable populations, the toxicity of the substance, the ability to disrupt biological reproduction or endocrine systems, and whether there are safer and more sustainable alternatives.4 The government will also be empowered to make geographically targeted regulations to address pollution “hot spots”.

Additionally, the Amendments will establish a mechanism through which any person can submit a request to the Minister to assess a substance to determine its toxicity and risk to the environment. The Minister must provide a response within 90 days, indicating whether they intend to assess the substances and their reasons for their decision.

Public Accountability Framework

The Amendments intend to increase transparency and public participation in risk assessments by the government for the categorization and management of potentially toxic chemicals. Currently, CEPA contains a public accountability framework under section 77 and provides time limits for the government to assess substances under sections 91 and 92. However, these provisions only apply to certain risk assessments being conducted by the government such as substances placed on the Domestic Substances List that in the opinion of the Minister present the greatest potential for exposure to Canadians or are persistent or bio-accumulative. The proposed Amendments plan to amend section 77 to expand these transparency and accountability measures to all substance risk assessments for toxic or capable of being toxic substances, with the exception of assessments for new substances.5

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Scientists, Homalco First Nation team up to probe massive B.C. landslide — and its impact on salmon

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When the side of a B.C. mountain gave way on Nov. 28, 2020, crashing into a glacier fed lake and creating a 100-metre high tsunami, no one was around to see the destruction or hear the sound of rocks and trees tearing through the valley below. 

But scientists say the force, which was picked up by seismographs across North America, was the equivalent of a 4.9-magnitude earthquake. 

Fortunately, no one was in the slide’s path, but experts believe that a melting glacier likely contributed by making the slope less stable — and climate change means it is a growing risk. 

As more of Canada’s glaciers recede, scientists say there is great interest in finding out what exactly triggered this slide, and how the rocks and sediment have impacted the salmon population of nearby Elliot Creek and Southgate River. 

The mountain, which is located about 220 km north west of Vancouver, is on the traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation. 

It’s an area of remote wilderness, only accessible by air or by boating 80 km up Bute Inlet.

When the slide hit last year, more than 18 million cubic meters of rock barrelled down the slope hitting the lake within 30 seconds. 

“That is the equivalent of all of the cars in Canada coming down the hill at once,” said Marten Geertsema, a geomorphologist who works with the B.C. government studying landslides. 

He is one of several scientists, along with members from the Homalco First Nation, who have been studying the landslide and its cascading environmental impact on the watershed and salmon habitat. 

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