A group of Muslim women in northern Gaza have been spreading the holiday cheer by sewing Santa Claus dolls for Christmas.
The women from the Palestinian enclave work in a factory that allows them to generate a personal income and provide Christmas gifts for those wishing to purchase them.
Some 20 young women are employed at the factory, which is a project of the Zeina Cooperative in the village of Umm al-Nasser, close to Beit Hanoun.
The women have been given three years of vocational training, learning to make gifts not only for Christmas but for a series of holidays - including the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, supervisor Asthma Abu Qaida told AFP.
During the Christmas season, they produce a range of goods, including models of Santa and wooden Christmas trees.
In addition to the creative work these women undertake, seven of them have also been taught carpentry.
The gifts are wrapped and put in gift boxes marked “Merry Christmas” in Arabic and English.
“We make Christmas gifts with love and precision,” Abu Qaida said.
Many of the customers are foreign delegates working in international organisations in the Gaza Strip, she went on to say.
The village of some 6,000 people is in a conservative part of Gaza that has been under Hamas control since 2007, and under an Israeli blockade for more than a decade.
The programme is an opportunity to work and leave the house, as many are prohibited from leaving their village except in emergencies, said Hanin Rizk al-Sammak, Zeina’s executive director.
“This gift-making project gives them an opportunity to showcase their abilities”.
Christians all around the world are pouring into the West Bank town of Bethlehem, but hundreds of Palestinian Christians from Gaza have been blocked from Israel from undertaking the pilgrimage.
Over 3.5 million tourists visit the city during this time, queuing to visit the grotto inside Bethlehem’s Church of Nativity, believed to be the exact site where Jesus was born.
Palestinian tourism minister Rula Maaya told AFP it had been a good year, but fewer Christians from the Gaza Strip were in attendance than in previous years.
Wadie Abunassar, an adviser to and spokesperson for church leaders in the Holy Land, said out of the 951 applications from Gazans so far, only 192 had been granted.
This comes after Israel announced on Sunday that it will allow Christians in the Gaza Strip to travel to Jerusalem and the West Bank for Christmas, reversing an April decision to ban them from leaving the besieged enclave.
The Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and Gaza are separated by Israeli territory and crossing between them requires hard-to-get permits.
Despite this, Abunassar said Christmas remained a time of home.
“The Holy Land is not only the site of the birth and crucifixion [of Jesus], it is also a place of resurrection,” he told the news agency.
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