Memories of a murderous Christmas

The merriment of Jaffa’s annual Christmas parade is marred by last year’s tragic death of one of the Orthodox community’s most beloved leaders.

Christians in Israel celebrating Christmas (photo credit: Tsvi Dahan)
Christians in Israel celebrating Christmas
(photo credit: Tsvi Dahan)
The smorgasbord of imagery at this year’s Christmas parade in Jaffa on Sunday made for a strange amalgamation of merriment and a distinct sense of the bizarre. Children in all manner of fancy dress – from Disney characters to polar bears to angels – marched alongside giant inflatable Santas, mechanical dolls, a full brass band and even a vintage car carrying a princess, as they made their way down the length of Jaffa’s main thoroughfare, Yefet Street.
Thousands of Christians from all over the country descended on the coastal city to partake in the parade which takes place every year on the eve of January 6, the day before Christmas according to the Julian calendar.
George Farus, a Roman Catholic from Nazareth, said, “It’s great to be here. Back home we already had our festival on the 24th [of December], so now we get to do it all over again here in Jaffa. It’s double the celebration.”
The parade ended at St George’s Church on Louis Pasteur Street, a stone’s throw from where a 15-meter Christmas tree had recently been erected in honor of the holiday season. Smoke machines and disco lights bounced off the walls of the churchyard and fireworks set the sky alight – all to the tune of classic Christmas songs like “Jingle Bells” played by the band.
“It’s a fun time, the kids love it,” said Doris Hifawi, an Orthodox Christian resident of Jaffa who was accompanied by her daughter dressed up as Snow White.
Rami Metanes, a salsa teacher also hailing from Jaffa, waxed nostalgic about the evening. “It reminds me of childhood when we would celebrate Christmas with all the family with barbecues and goodie bags for the children.” Yet for Metanes, the distinct lack of non-Christians at the parade somewhat marred the merrymaking. “It would be nice to see more Israelis who aren’t Christians come and see this for themselves.
I don’t see any Muslims or Jews, I don’t know why. People don’t come – maybe they don’t know about it or maybe it doesn’t interest them.”
The curious lack of information online – in either Hebrew or English – seems to confirm Metanes’s claim that Jewish Israelis simply aren’t aware the parade even exists.
In fact, the only results Google yields are in connection to the murder of Gabriel “Gabi” Cadis, the head of Jaffa’s Orthodox Church Association who was stabbed to death during the Christmas parade in January 2012.
It wasn’t long before revelers at the parade brought up the memory of Cadis’s murder, an event that drastically impacted Jaffa’s Christian community. The crime sent shockwaves through the community and for Silvana Garaisy, an Arab Christian living in Jaffa, Cadis’s death meant that things would never be the same again.
“The memory of his murder has forever ruined the atmosphere of the festival. The joy and light of Christmas has been contaminated with pain and sadness,” said Garaisy, “Even in the midst of all this celebrating, there’s an uncomfortable feeling of insecurity. Every little noise, every little disturbance makes me jumpy and I think, ‘Oh no, not again.’” Gabi Cadis was beloved by members of the Greek Orthodox community, but not by all. Prior to his murder, the 56-year-old attorney had been reappointed as the leader of the Christian Orthodox minority – beating his opponent, T’lal Abu Maneh. At the time, Israeli news sources alleged that Abu Maneh had ordered the killing, and three members of his family were consequently arrested. Video footage from cellphones and security cameras show Abu Maneh’s nephew, Tawfik Dalo, approaching Cadis following his speech in the churchyard of St George’s. According to the indictment served at the city’s district court on January 26 2012, Fuad Jamil Maneh, another nephew of T’lal’s, stabbed Cadis in the back three times before escaping the scene of the crime. In a twist worthy of a horror movie, Fuad was disguised as Santa Claus when he allegedly carried out the murder.
Cadis was famous for trying to bridge ties between all of Jaffa’s communities – Christian, Jewish and Muslim. According to Ahmed Mashwari, then a member of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa city council, this contributed to his death. “He helped all of Jaffa,” said Mashrawi, “But people didn’t like that he was forging connections between Muslims and Christians.”
The indictment, however, stated that the motive for the murder was triggered by a dispute over churchowned real estate. Cadis was trying to evict Abu Maneh’s family from a NIS 10 million home that the former claimed belonged to the Orthodox Church. The property feud resulted in earning St George the dubious moniker, “Church of Dispute.”
Fast forward a year and the accused members of Abu Maneh’s family are still awaiting sentencing. The Santa Claus would-be killer is under house arrest in Jerusalem. In Jaffa, there are over 100 murder investigations that still remain open – a shocking statistic for a community that is less than 50,000 strong.
In what turned out to be a premonition of what was to come, Channel 10 reported that a threat was made on Cadis’s life three years earlier during the Christmas season of 2009.
Following the threat, Cadis broadcast a message to the entire Christian community, asking that anyone with information on the perpetrator step forward as a witness.
Frustrated by the lack of cooperation, Cadis allegedly proclaimed, “Until when will you have your heads stuck in the sand? What if something bad happens [to me] in the future, how will you feel then?” Sadly for Cadis, his prediction was all too accurate. According to Rami Sayegh, a Roman Catholic history teacher living in Jaffa, the case emotionally destroyed Cadis’ family. Last year, the Jaffa parade was scaled down so that only a few hundred people attended. With the cooperation of Cadis’ family, the parade made a stop at the place where the murder took place. Sayegh asserts that this was done to signal to the community that the “show must go on.”
“Ignoring what happened is not the solution,” said Sayegh, “But neither is staying sad and mourning all the time. We must keep the faith and go on.”
But for many Christians like Silvana Garaisy, moving on is not an easy task. The pain of losing so charismatic a leader in such a brutal manner will cast a dark shadow over the season’s festivities for years to come.
“His murder changed Christmas forever,” said Garaisy. “From now on, this joyful day will also be a remembrance day for my community.”