Gaza: Israeli authorities gave 550 Palestinian Christians from Gaza special permits to enter the West Bank for the holidays. However, hundreds of other Christians were not eligible to apply for the permit which is subject to age restrictions.

On Thursday, many of the Christians of Gaza started leaving the besieged costal strip on their way to Bethlehem to participate in the Christmas celebrations. According to the church, the Israeli authorities gave permission to some of the Christians who are over 35 years old to participate in the celebrations.

The church provided the Israeli side with 700 names, but only 550 were accepted. Quite shockingly, some of these names belong to dead people.

“The Israeli authorities don’t differentiate between Muslims and Christians when it comes to the right of Palestinians to move. Many of the Christians are forbidden to leave Gaza strip to participate in the celebrations of Christmas in Bethlehem,” Jaber Al Jilda, the religious affairs officer at the Orthodox Church.

“However, we are minorities particularly here in Gaza strip and generally in Palestine. Many of us participated in the resistance activities against the Israeli occupation. We play our part in resisting as well as in politics and ordinary life,” he added.

Despite the fact that there are no signs for celebrating Christmas Eve in Gaza strip except in churches and in a couple of fancy restaurants, the Christians who remained in the besieged strip celebrated the religious event.

Chris Al Bandakts, a released prisoner originally from Bethlehem, 33, was departing to Gaza strip in the prisoner swap between the Islamic movement and Israel. He is one of the people who has to celebrate Christmas Eve in Gaza, since he is forbidden to leaving to the West Bank. This is the first Christmas for Chris out of jail. However, he is far away from his family and the city he fought for when the Israelis invaded Bethlehem in 2002.

“It’s been 6 years since I last celebrated Christmases Eve and I never thought I would. However, I miss my family, friends and the atmosphere of Bethlehem at this time of year. I’m happy to be free after long years of detention in the Israeli prisons,” he said. His mother and father died while he was in prison, so he was unable to attend their funeral and now restricted from visiting their graves.

“Bethlehem is full of joy and happiness these days. I wish I was there at this time of year. However, the people here whether Muslims or Christians are extremely friendly and generous. Many well-wishers came to my house to wish me a blessed Christmas,” he said.

Christians are considered minorities in Gaza strip since there is around 2000 Christians in Gaza strip. In 1967, there were around 5,000 but their numbers have decreased since many of them immigrated because of the siege on Gaza.