Greek Orthodox church aims to block property sale in court

Bruno Cirelli
Agosto 13, 2017

Jerusalem's Greek Orthodox patriarch has denounced an Israeli court ruling to allow a pro-settlement group to take control of church land in a mainly Palestinian area of occupied and annexed east Jerusalem.

Theophilos said at a press conference in the Jordanian capital Amman that this legal battle, which has been going on for a decade, has resulted in an unjust decision that has ignored very clear legal evidence presented by the church, which made it clear that it was done in "bad faith, bribery and conspiracy" for the benefit of the group of settlers from Ateret Cohanim.

Theophilos leads a predominantly Arab flock of 220,000 Christians in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

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In 2005, Israel's Maariv daily newspaper reported that foreign Jewish investors had paid millions of dollars to buy two large properties just inside Jaffa Gate through a secret deal with the Greek Orthodox church.

The Old City is part of east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They also own the land that the Knesset, Israel's parliament, is built on.

Israel's current government rejects any partition of Jerusalem as part of a possible peace deal. Since 1967, some 200,000 Jews have settled in east Jerusalem neighborhoods built for them by successive Israeli governments, making partition increasingly hard.

He urged the heads of churches to find a joint response to "this alarming and serious development" that he said will affect Christians in the region and around the world.

The Greek Orthodox Church is one of the largest property owners in the Holy Land, including the Old City, but has seen growing discontent over the administration of its land leases amid accusations of selling properties to Israeli developers.

He called on church and world leaders to coordinate their activities and intervene to prevent this ruling from taking hold.

Critics have repeatedly demanded that the church provide details about its holdings.

On Saturday, church officials declined to answer when asked about the holdings.

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