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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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Tiger-Cats claim victory against the Argos to maintain home record on Labour Day

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The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were at their devastating best against the Toronto Argonauts when the two locked horns on Labour Day at the Tim Hortons Field.

Just like with previous Labour Day fixtures, the Ticats produced a stellar performance with Dane Evans throwing two touchdown passes while Frankie Williams scored on a 67-yard punt return as they claimed a 32-19 victory on Monday. With this vital win, the Ticats extended their Labour Day home record to 7-0.

For players and fans of the Tiger-Cats, games on Labour Day are a lot more special and losing is something the Ticats aren’t used to.

“We know the fans are going to be behind us, we know Toronto is going to be chippy, we know it’s going to be sunny; we know it’s going to be windy. Everything that happened (Monday) we prepared for. There is something extremely special about Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day . . . you can feel it in the air, I can’t put it into words,” said Evans.

After the COVID-19 induced hiatus, the CFL is back in full action and fans can now bet on their favourite teams and just like with online slots Canada, real money can be won. Hamilton (2-2) recorded its second straight win to move into a tie atop the CFL East Division standings with Montreal Alouettes (2-2). Also, the Ticats lead the overall Labour Day series with Toronto 36-13-1.

In the sun-drenched gathering of 15,000—the maximum allowed under Ontario government COVID-19 protocols—the fans loved every minute of this feisty game. After all, this was the Ticats first home game in 659 days, since their 36-16 East Division final win over Edmonton in November 2019.

The contest between the Ticats and Argos was certainly not bereft of emotions, typical of a Labour Day fixture, as it ended with an on-field melee. But the Argos often found themselves on the wrong end of the decisions with several penalty calls and most of the game’s explosive plays.

Hamilton quarterback Evans completed 21-of-29 passing for 248 yards and the two touchdowns while Toronto’s make-shift quarterback Arbuckle completed 18-of-32 attempts for 207 yards. Arbuckle also made a touchdown and two interceptions before eventually being substituted by McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Bethel-Thompson made an eight-yard TD pass to wide receiver Eric Rogers late in the final quarter of the game.

“They got after us a bit . . . we didn’t block, or pass protect well,” said Ryan Dinwiddie, rookie head coach of the Argos in a post-match interview. “They just kicked our butts; we’ve got to come back and be a better team next week.”

The Labour Day contest was the first of four fixtures this year between Toronto and Hamilton. The two teams would face off again on Friday at BMO Field. Afterwards, the Tim Hortons Field will play host to the Argonauts again on Oct. 11 with the regular-season finale scheduled for Nov. 12 in Toronto.

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Roughriders looking to bounce back after Labor Day defeat

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In what an unusual feeling for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they would now need to dust themselves up after a 23-8 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in what was a Labor Day Classic showdown in front of a full capacity crowd at Mosaic stadium.

Craig Dickenson, head coach of the Riders, witnessed his team with an unbeaten record get utterly dominated by a more superior team from Winnipeg. Now, he has got a lot of work on his hands getting his team back to winning ways as they visit the Banjo Bowl next.

“We’re going to see what we’re made of now…the jury’s out,” said Dickenson.

Dan Clark, who played centre for the Riders expressed his disappointment in losing what was “the biggest game of the year”.

 “If you lose every other game, you don’t want to lose that one. We’ve just got to take the next step,” said Clark in a report. “There are 12 steps to the Grey Cup left and it’s just about taking that next step and focusing on what Saturday will bring.”

With their first defeat to Winnipeg, the Riders (3-1) now rank second place in the CFL’s West Division, trailing the Bombers by one victory (4-1). However, the Riders will have the chance to even the season series during their trip to Winnipeg this Saturday. With the CFL heating up, fans can now enjoy online sports betting Canada as they look forward to their team’s victory.

The Rider’s offensive line will once again have a busy time dealing with the Blue Bombers’ defence.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo, who played one of the best games of his career two weeks earlier, had quite a stinker against the Bombers in the Labour Day Classic—which is the most anticipated game for Rider fans.

Fajardo had a 59 per cent completion percentage which wasn’t quite indicative of what the actual figure was considering he was at 50 per cent before going on a late drive in the final quarter with the Bombers already becoming laid back just to protect the win.

Fajardo also registered a personal worst when he threw three interceptions, but in all fairness, he was always swarmed by the Bomber’s defence.

While Fajardo has claimed responsibility for the loss and letting his teammates down, many would be curious to see how the team fares in their next game and with less than a week of preparation.

Dickenson is confident that his team would improve during their rematch in the 17th edition of the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg. The only challenge now would be the loss of home advantage and dealing with the noisy home crowd, he added.

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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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