In 2004, the previous patriarch sold Church property in the Old City to an organisation of Jewish settlers. The current patriarch opposed the authorised sale, starting a legal battle. On 1 August, the Israeli court confirmed the sale agreement. Theophilos III will appeal to the Supreme Court against the “politically motivated” ruling, which will “have the most negative effect on the Christian presence in the Holy Land”.
Amman (AsiaNews/Agencies) – “Today, it is our call of duty and our commitment, entrusted to us by the lord, that lead us to break our silence and say: enough is enough,” said Theophilos III Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, following a decision by the Jerusalem District Court to confirm the sale of some properties owned by the Greek Orthodox Church to a group of Jewish settlers.
The patriarch's harsh words came at an unprecedented press conference on Saturday in Amman, where he announced that he would take the issue to the Israeli Supreme Court.
The case dates back to 2004, when three companies associated with the Jewish organization Ateret Cohanim obtained three buildings belonging the Greek Orthodox Church – the Petra Hotel, the Imperial Hotel and a residential property in City of Jerusalem near the Jaffa Gate – on the basis of a emphyteutic (long-term) lease.
The transfer outraged Palestinian and led to the removal of Theophilos III’s predecessor, Patriarch Irenaios.
The Greek Orthodox Church opposed the agreement calling it "illegal" and "unauthorised", launching a legal battle that led to the verdict of 1st August, in which the court dismissed the Patriarchate’s position.
“We [. . .] reject publicly and clearly the unfair ruling of the Israeli district court in the ‘Jaffa Gate’ case,” Theophilos said reading his statement.
“This decade-long legal battle has resulted in an unjust decision which disregarded all of Patriarchate's clear and concrete legal evidence proving bad faith, bribery and conspiracy. Such a decision, in favour of the settler group, Ateret Cohanim, can only be interpreted as politically motivated.”
The prelate noted that the decision “strikes at the very heart of the Christian Quarter of the Old City, comes at an extremely delicate and sensitive time and will certainly have the most negative effect on the Christian presence in the Holy Land.”
For years, Israeli groups have tried to grab properties within the city, putting economic and political pressures on Christian and Muslim Arab residents, buying land, or expropriating it. For Palestinians, residence in Jerusalem is required to get papers that allow them to work and travel.
The patriarch ended his appeal to all the Churches of the Holy Land by calling for an "urgent meeting" among their leaders, and reiterating his own pastoral and spiritual mission.
The appeal was also addressed to world leaders to “ensure that justice and freedom prevail in these matters” to benefit peace and “all the citizens of the Holy Land”.