Israel’s top court upholds sale in Jerusalem’s Christian quarter to Ateret Cohanim
The appeal by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate against lower court decision was rejected. Although the purchase of the disputed buildings in the Old City by the radical Jewish group is valid in all respects, the Greek Orthodox patriarch says he will continue the battle alongside the residents.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – The Israeli Supreme Court has upheld a lower court decision, validating the purchase of disputed property by a radical Jewish group.
The legal (and religious) battle dragging on for 20 years pitted the Ateret Cohanim group against the Greek Orthodox Church, which once owned the three buildings involved in the dispute in the Old City of Jerusalem, and whose appeal was finally rejected.
For Israel’s top court, the group close to Jewish settlers and right-wing movements legally purchased the property, located in the eastern sector of the holy city and once owned by the Greek Orthodox Church.
The three buildings (two hotels near the Jaffa Gate and one in the Christian quarter) at the centre of the controversy were bought in a controversial deal struck in secret in 2004 with the leaders of the patriarchate of that time.
The sale sparked protests by Palestinian Christians and prompted the resignation of the then Patriarch Irenaios I.
In the appeal in court, the Greek Orthodox Church challenged the sale, pointing out that the properties were taken illegally without the consent of the patriarchate.
The Supreme Court ruling rejected the appeal, stressing that the “harsh allegations” of misconduct by the parties involved in the original sale were “not proven to be true” in earlier proceedings.
The Greek Orthodox Church called Wednesday’s ruling “unfair” and without "any logical basis”.
It also slammed the Jewish group involved, Ateret Cohanim, describing it as a “radical organisation” that used “crooked and illegal methods to acquire Christian real estate” at a crucial Jerusalem site.
For many years, the group has sought to buy assets and properties in Arab Jerusalem in order to expand Jewish presence and control over the city.
Reached by AFP, the Church’s lawyer Asaad Mazawi said that the ruling marked “a very sad day" for the whole city.
“We are talking about a group of extremists” who “want to take the properties from the Churches, want to change the character of the Old City and want to invade the Christian areas,” he said. With the backing of Israeli authorities, “unfortunately they are succeeding,” he added.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem in June 1967, during the Six Day War, and annexed it in a move deemed illegitimate and not recognised by most of the international community.
The Greek Orthodox Church is the largest and wealthiest Church in the holy city, with extensive land holdings that date back centuries.
In recent years, it has faced repeated charges of corruption and favouring the expansion of Israeli settlements by selling its properties.
In a note issued yesterday by the patriarch, the Greek Orthodox Church reiterated its support for the Palestinian tenants still living in the disputed properties and remained “unwavering in its battle to curb the racist policy and the agenda of the extremist right wing in Israel.”