Every year in the run-up to Christmas, jeweller Melad al-Amash puts gold Santa Claus figurines and miniature Christmas trees on display at his shop in Gaza.
This year however, the coronavirus pandemic is keeping traditional customers away from the 500-year-old gold market, a narrow lane lined by tiny shops under a vaulted roof. Amash says his business is down by half compared to the same period in 2019.
“It was my grandfather’s profession. He passed it on to my father and my father passed it on to me,” the 27-year-old Palestinian Christian said in his shop.
Members of Gaza’s small Christian community of 1,000 usually snap up the Christmas-themed items, a sideline to his regular jewellery business.
But like many others in Gaza, they are feeling the economic sting of the health crisis and lockdowns. The pandemic has deepened economic hardship in Gaza, which is run by Islamist terrorists Hamas and is under blockade by Israel.
Egypt also imposes border restrictions, citing, as does Israel, security concerns.
“Coronavirus has impacted our work, people are afraid to come to the market. They are also afraid to buy – they prefer saving their money to buying gold,” Amash said.
Gaza, where two million people live in densely populated neighbourhoods, has logged more than 26,000 coronavirus cases and 169 deaths, mostly since August.
Its Christian population has declined by two-thirds over the past 15 years, a wave of emigration fuelled by economic struggles and a desire to escape fighting between militant groups and Israel.
“You can’t live in a country at war and in closure, so it is normal to leave and look out for your interests in another country,” Amash said.