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.
On July 31, a Jerusalem court upheld controversial real estate deals involving Israeli pro-settlement organisation Ateret Cohanim and the church for two hotel properties near the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City, Israeli media reported, finding no evidence of the deals resulting from fraud or bribery.
Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem on Saturday criticised what he called an “unjust” and “politically motivated” ruling and said the church would appeal to Israel’s supreme court.
“This decade-long legal battle has resulted in an unjust decision which disregarded all of the patriarchate’s clear and concrete legal evidence proving bad faith, bribery and conspiracy,” Theophilos said.
“Such a decision in favour of the settler group Ateret Cohanim can only be interpreted as politically motivated.”
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.
A source close to the Greek Orthodox patriarchy at the time told AFP that the church was unaware of the land sale, which triggered Palestinian anger and saw Theophilos’s predecessor removed from office.
According to Israeli media, the agreements, which were initially signed in 2004, were for 99-year leases on hotel properties near Jaffa Gate.
The church went to court against Ateret Cohanim, claiming the deals were inked illegally and without its authorisation.
The Greek Orthodox Church is the biggest and wealthiest Christian Church in the Holy Land.
Its Jerusalem patriarchate commands massive wealth, largely in land portfolios in Israel, the occupied West Bank and Jordan.