Greek Orthodox patriarch says Israeli court ruling on church property politically motivated

Claudine Rigal
Août 13, 2017

The Greek Orthodox patriarch in the Holy Land announced Saturday that his church will appeal an Israeli court decision that approved the sale of prime church property to companies representing Jews seeking to expand their presence in Jerusalem's Old City.

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.

Its Jerusalem patriarchate commands massive wealth, largely in land portfolios in Israel, the occupied West Bank and Jordan.

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While most Orthodox churches have national leadership, Greek officials dominate the church in Palestine, leading to claims that it is unrepresentative of the local Palestinian Christian population. Since 1967, some 200,000 Jews have settled in east Jerusalem neighborhoods built for them by successive Israeli governments, making partition increasingly hard.

The patriarch also expressed concern about what he said was an effort by some members of Israel's parliament to restrict the rights of his church and other Christian denominations in the Holy Land to deal independently with their real estate holdings. In addition, Jewish settler groups have bought homes in Arab neighborhoods.

"We can not stress too highly the extreme seriousness of the situation", Theophilos said.

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 world leaders to intervene.

Critics have repeatedly demanded that the church provide details on its holdings, but the church on Saturday declined to comment.

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