An Israeli military court ruled on August 1st that settler groups have the right to seize two hotels and a large building in the Old City of Jerusalem which belongs to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. The hotels and the building provide the façade of the area that embraces the monasteries, the Christian Patriarchate and the road leading to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate Jerusalem condemned the court decision.
Τhe Israeli Central Court accepted lawsuits filed by the right-wing Jewish group Ateret Cohanim against the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate regarding the Petra and Imperial hotels and the house of Mu’amadiyah in the Jaffa Gate area of the Old City. Jaffa Gate is the closest to the Christian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, where the church owns several properties.
Ateret Cohanim aims to ‘repopulate the Old City of Jerusalem with Jewish settlers.’ With the court lawsuit the group wants to acquire properties belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church, in the Christian Quarter, prior to a disputed deal which involved the Patriarch Irineos who was dismissed in 2004. According to the deal in which allegedly also bribes were involved, Ateret Cohanim would lease the properties for 99 years and thus for a price far below the real value.
In a statement published on August 2nd, the Patriarchate condemned the court’s decision adding that the court based its decision on “a deal concluded illegally with the person responsible for the church’s financial department during the time of dismissed Patriarch Irenaios in 2004”.
The Orthodox community in Palestine and Jordan had pressed the Palestinian Authority and Jordan to dismiss Patriarch Irenaios after it was revealed that he rented the properties to Jewish groups.
The Patriarchate said the court’s decision allows the settler groups to rent the properties for 99 years, adding that since the isolation of Patriarch Irenaios, the church took all measures and exhausted all efforts and judicial and financial resources to cancel the deal, but unfortunately, the court’s decision came as another setback suffered by the Patriarchate and Jerusalem in general.
It added that the new Patriarch, Theophilos III, will provide tenants in these properties with “full support to deal with this unjust attack”, adding that Christian properties suffer the same attacks and targeting as Islamic properties in Jerusalem.
It was not clear whether the Orthodox Church will go to the Supreme Court to appeal the decision.
Commenting on the court decision, Archbishop Theodosios (Hanna) of Orthodox Sebastia at the the Church of the Holy Sepulchre said that “those who sell and forfeit our real estate and Orthodox endowments do not represent our Arab Church, its heritage, identity and historical presence in this holy land,” local Palestinian news agency Quds Net News Agency has reported.
“We will not allow the extremist settlers to break into these properties, which are part of our historical national heritage in the Holy City,” Archbishop Theodosios told a meeting of Orthodox community members on Sunday.
“These estates were built by bishops, priests and monks who have been distinguished for their sanctity, spirituality and love for their church. These endowments are part of the heritage of Jerusalem and its cultural, spiritual and national identity.” The settlers’ efforts, he said, “conspire” against the presence of Christians in Jerusalem.
He condemned and rejected what he called “these suspicious deals, the most recent of which was that of Bab Al-Khalil [Jaffa Gate, in Jerusalem’s Old City], which is considered as one of the most dangerous deals.” In fact, he pointed out, its repercussions will have a dangerous effect on the Christian presence in Jerusalem and contribute to the distortion of the old city and the policy of changing its features. “This deal falls within the framework of the policies of the [Israeli] occupation, which targets Jerusalem and all its components.”
Voices among the Greek Orthodox Patriachate are loud for practical protests, one of which might be to establish a sit-in tent at Bab Al-Khalil, opposite the targeted hotels, or to enter these hotels and challenge the Israeli settlers who are planning to seize them.
“It is no longer enough to make statements of denunciation and indignation. We have to take practical steps to preserve what remains of our religious endowments and properties.” The deal was the reason for the dismissal of former Patriarch Irenios, Theodosios pointed out.
Archbishop Theodosios is an activist defender of the continuous presence of the Greek Orthodox Church in Middle East and supporter of the Palestinian cause.
In 2005, Archimandrite Theodosios was active in the movement to dethrone Patriarch Irenaios following allegations that land belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church had been sold to Zionist Jewish organizations. After election of new Patriarch Theophilos III in 2005 Archimandrite Theodosios Hanna was appointed and ordained as Archbishop of Sebastia.
On June 27, 2015, Archbishop Theodosios was arrested by Israeli forces as he took part in a march protesting the murky acquisition by Israeli settlers of an abandoned church complex north of Hebron, initially belonging to the same organisation that established the al-Baraka Presbyterian mission in Bethlehem; the move is seen as illegal under international law by the international community.
Archbishop Theodosios, who was ordained on the 24 December 2005 at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is the second Palestinian to hold the position of Archbishop in the history of the diocese.
More information on the deal between the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and Ateret Cohanim in haaretz.com.
PS old sins revive…