Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Santa Claus at the Jaffa Gate!

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Early this morning I went to the Old City on a blogging mission: to cover the annual Christmas tree distribution to the Christian residents of Jerusalem.
And boy, did I luck out!!

Santa Claus himself was at the Jaffa Gate, ho-ho-hoing!

You remember from last Sunday's post. Jaffa Gate, built in 1538 by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. It is the main entrance through the Old City wall.
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But to see the plaza outside the gate full of Christmas trees was a first for me!
Look, even a white dove of peace flying above!
Apparently the Christians residing in Jerusalem (e.g. U.N. personnel, diplomatic corps, clergy, foreign correspondents, etc.) were supposed to show their ID card or passport to get a free tree.
A few did.

Santa passed out a few trees to those good folk.

But mostly it looked like a free-for-all with people grabbing trees each time another pickup truck of the Jerusalem Municipality drove up.
One hundred trees were supposed to be distributed between 9:00 and noon, but by ten o'clock they ran out of trees.
City Hall footed the bill, paying 70 shekels per tree to the Keren Kayemet/Jewish National Fund, which provided the trees.

Santa did a lot of posing with trees and with people as the cameras rolled and clicked.
He spread Christmas cheer and wishes for peace in flawless English.

See the strange "trunk"? That is because these are actually crowns from trees that needed thinning out at their top.
I read that some were Atlantic cypress, some pines.
More info at the KKL JNF website.
They all smelled so good.
People took their trees home however they could.
This woman just shouldered her tree and started walking.

Some piled them on the 3-wheeled pushcarts that porters use to transport goods along the narrow lanes of the Old City.
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For these very religious Jewish boys, this was the closest they ever were to anything related to goyishe Christmas. They seemed in shock that this was happening.
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I think in response to ultra-Orthodox grumbling, the Jerusalem Municipality told the Jerusalem Post:
"Just like the municipality pays for hundreds of menoras to go up all over the city during Hanukka, and just like we assist with preparations for Ramadan, we also distribute Christmas trees. There are people of faith from the world's three major religions living in the city, and we respect them all and want them to enjoy their respective holidays."
In the interviews Santa seemed exceptionally articulate and diplomatic.
Back home now, I Googled to find the Reuters photos. Reuters identifies Santa is "Israeli Arab Issa Kassassieh." Indeed, I heard him speaking Arabic when he was not on camera.
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Googling again, I found that he is no less than the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority!
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The IPNP website says:
"Previously he was a policy analyst in the PLO's Negotiation Affairs Department. An expert on the issue of Jerusalem in a final status agreement, Mr. Kassissieh has been deeply involved in both official and second-track negotiations with the Israelis. During his eight years working as the Director of the International Relations Department at the Orient House in Jerusalem, he was head of the Palestinian team for multilateral talks and the official responsible for the Jerusalem portfolio. "
Kassissieh has a degree in English literature and three Masters degrees, in international relations, diplomacy and statecraft, and public administration.
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This is the Santa Claus who posed with me and after a half-second decided it was kosher to put a hand on my shoulder for the photograph.
Had I known his high position, I would have given Santa a wish list, with PEACE at the top.
He was a jolly good fellow.
Oh, and his name, Issa, is Arabic for Jesus.
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25 comments:

JM said...

Great post, Dina! I especially enjoy the Jewish boys staring at the blue car full of trees! :-)

Yaelian said...

They showed about giving out the trees in the news as well.A nice posting!

gigihawaii said...

Wonderful photos! Christianity is alive and well in Jerusalem. I wonder if anyone bought a FAKE tree for their home. My own tree is artificial. Real trees in Hawaii went for $110 each, so it was more economical for us to have a fake tree, which can be reused every year.

Dina said...

JM, me too. The whole scene there today was an "only in Israel" one.

Yaelian, good, glad they showed it on TV after all those interviews Santa gave. Sometimes I wish I had a television. The newscast I saw via Internet did not mention it.

Gigi, well, the 2% of Jerusalem's population who are Christians are.
Are you kidding, $110 for a chopped tree?? Surely it is less on the mainland, no? No wonder folks have fake trees.

bennie and patsy said...

I guess it is ok if I say to you MERRY CHRISTMAS from Arkansas LOL

I read your post every day and a church lady from Blytheville Ar also, she loves to tell her Sunday School Class about your post.
Patsy

Kay said...

This is such an exceptional exceptional post, Dina. I had to sent a link to Jon, Tif and a Northwestern prof friend of mine. They'll LOVE this.

gigihawaii said...

A 6 foot tree costs $37 in Kansas City!

Don't know why real trees cost so much in Hawaii. They are imported from Washington and Oregon.

Lawstude said...

Fellowship, feasting, giving and receiving gifts are all the buzzwords in a Christmas setting. Make your Christmas a one to cherish for years!

Anonymous said...

Santa Clause in Israel! What great photos. Thanks for sharing this interesting celebration. - Jon and Sarah from New Mexico

Ann said...

An Israeli Arab Santa, how wonderful, Maybe there's hope for us all yet.

Petrea said...

A delightful, delightful post! Mr. Kassissieh sets the example of diplomacy. We really can live together, with his kind of kindness and generosity (and yours, I might add).

Robin said...

Great post Dina, I love it when the government goes and does something very right for a change. How great too that these were actually the crowns of the trees - beautifully fresh, but environmentally sound too :).

magicpolaroid said...

hi Dina great post, I saw this santa Clause on the reportage from Jerusalem in Sky tv!!
ciao, Luis

Hilda said...

Wow, Dina, there are all kinds of amazing in your story. The Jerusalem Authority is to be commended for its efforts to be fair to all three religions. I like the fact that the 'trees' are just pruned crowns and not a full tree that had to be killed (I would have loved to smell them — I've never seen a single 'real' Christmas tree in my entire life). And finally, I find it amazing that a man like Mr. Kassissieh would do something like distribute Christmas trees. I like that. No wonder Santa was as articulate as you said.

Kate said...

What a terrific, entertaining series of photos. What a difference in geography!


We DID get a blanket of snow last night but mercifully not as bad as predicted. Neighborhood is eerily quiet with few cars on the street. Driving will be daunting. Going to wend my way down to the neighborhood cafe for some latte, taking some photos as I walk. Just now through the window "in a room of my own" observing some poor motorist trying to manuever the hill to get to an intersection. Neither he nor the garbage truck in front of him will make it. Now they're backing up. Better to walk as I intend to do. Are you thrilled with my description of this winter wonderland?!

Tony nile life said...

Ok Dina you prooved Santa is alive and well. but now I want to know how come he is younger than I am.
Many times I went through the Jaffa gate, just to walk through the old city.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I think your slender Santa with the perfect English must have spent his summer at a fitness farm in Malibu.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I rented a video on Suleiman the Magnificent from our local library. Very interesting (he was a master goldsmith). My Syrian born dentist accused him of raiding arab lands and dragging their best craftsmen back to Turkey. An entire guild of syrian glass blowers were lost at sea. I'm no scholar but I think thats what he told me.

Catherine said...

You're a perfect reporter, Dina !
That's a very interesting post.
I like this way of celebrating the faith of the major religions represented in Israel. It's a great opening, even if it could be interpreted as a way to give good press, maybe.
I wish you the Peace of Christmas or the message of Peace of any other religion, Dina.

Sara said...

Fascinating! Only in Israel, right?

Yes, PEACE, may it find us all in 2010.

FA said...

This amazes me; a great story and great photos.

Suzanne said...

Dina,
THANK YOU so much for blogging mission...truly a mission of the heart! I so much wanted to get a tree when I was there but then when I realized I'd have to hoof it back to my apt I thought, well I could just hang my little hand made ornaments on a branch from outside...and so I did. Splendid blog, thank you.

Vogon Poet said...

Excellent post with a surprise ending!

Mimi said...

Hi Dina, I came over from Robin's.
I'm really touched by this post, and thinking that if we could all tolerate each other's beliefs and celebration rituals,the world would be a much better place.
That Santa sounds fantastic!
Hope you had a good Christmas, whatever side of the line you're on.

Dina said...

Thanks everyone, for your so-interesting comments!

Mimi, welcome!
Yes, I think it helps so much to get to know one another here in Israel.
Being Jewish in Israel, I don't really "have" Christmas.