A Palestinian Santa Claus hands out wishes in Jerusalem

In the Old City of Jerusalem there are dozens of churches, but only one Santa Claus “official”: a Palestinian basketball player whom children ask for cell phones in the absence of peace.

In December, the center of Jerusalem — home to the Mosque Mount, the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — is filled with red and green Christmas lights.

And Santa Claus does not come from the North Pole, but from here and he is 1.90 m tall. his name is Issa Kassissieh, former captain of the Palestinian basketball team.

“We have several religions in Jerusalem. There are Muslims, Christians and Jews. And people from all religious backgrounds come to visit me at my house,” says the 38-year-old.

This is the case of Marwa, an eight-year-old Palestinian girl whose family is Muslim. “I’m not a Christian, but I love Santa Claus (…) and we also have a (Christmas) tree at home,” she says with a smile.

When Kassissieh was a child, his father already dressed up as Santa Claus. About 15 years ago, he found the suit and decided to put it on.

“Official Diploma”

Since then, the former athlete studied at the Santa School in Denver, Colorado (United States), participated in the world congress of Santa Claus in Denmark and obtained the certificate from the “famous” Charles W. Howard School, in Michigan (United States). ).

He also transformed the ground floor of his family home into the home of the famous Christmas character.

Built seven centuries ago in the Christian quarter of the Old City, the stone house is decorated with candies, garlands and a large chair for Santa Claus.

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Kassissieh is the “only” Santa Claus in Israel and Jerusalem to have obtained this official certificate, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism confirms to AFP.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem, including the Old City, after the Six Day War in 1967.

“It is quite special to convey a message of peace and love in Jerusalem, which is the heart of the world. When we have peace in Jerusalem, there will be peace in the world”, this Santa Claus wants to believe who avoids touching on political issues.

“It’s important for our children to have fun, but we also want them to know the true Christmas story,” says Alison Pargiter, a 52-year-old American, visiting the Kassissieh cave with her family.

Do children ask for peace in the world? “They rather ask for an iPhone,” replies the former athlete. “I do not promise them anything and I tell them: ‘let’s pray and if you are on my list you will receive something'”, adds this Santa Claus who, in the absence of reindeer, rides a camel through the city.

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