Patriarch calls for day of prayer to reclaim Old City bldgs. sold to Jews

“We cannot remain silent while access to our Holy Sites is threatened and the hope of a lasting peace is diminished,” the Greek Patriarch Theophilus III said on Thursday.

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July 11, 2019 18:22
2 minute read.
Greek Patriarch Theophilus III delivers a speech and prayer to reclaim leased property sold to Jews

Greek Patriarch Theophilus III delivers a speech and prayer to reclaim leased property sold to Jews. (photo credit: YOSSI ZELINGER)

 
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The Greek Patriarch Theophilos III called for an international day of prayer for the Christian community – and specifically the Christian quarter in Jerusalem – to take place in September.

The call on Thursday came at the end of an impassioned speech, delivered at the Jaffa Gate, in which the patriarch said that the Church will “refuse to allow radical groups to dilute the integrity and character of Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter.”

Theophilos and some of his followers stood together in the heart of the Christian Quarter in another move of protest against a June decision by the Supreme Court, which ruled that the sale of property in the Christian Quarter to the Jewish organization Ateret Cohanim was legal and that the buildings should be transferred to the Jewish group.

“We cannot remain silent while access to our Holy Sites is threatened and the hope of a lasting peace is diminished,” Theophilos said. “As a community of justice, we demand that the rule of law is upheld, and stand united against any attempt to take Church properties by unlawful measures or to forcefully evict innocent tenants.

“We warn against any such attempt, and we shall not fear to use all legitimate means to oppose and block this from occurring,” he continued. “We remain impassioned guardians of the status quo and will ensure that people of all faiths can flourish and thrive within the walls of this city.”

Controversy erupted between the Church and Israel in 2005 after it came to light that Ateret Cohanim had leased, for 99 years with an option for renewal, the Petra Hotel and the Imperial Hotel near the Jaffa Gate in the Old City, as well as a building known as Beit Azmiya in the Bab al-Huta neighborhood.

Ateret Cohanim has been working to legally purchase Arab-owned property in the eastern part of Jerusalem. It has a yeshiva located in the Muslim quarter, and aims to increase the Jewish presence in all areas of the Old City.

The original lease was signed in 2004 under the Greek patriarch Irenaios, who denied that he had any knowledge of it and tried to claim it was void. At the time, he blamed the Church’s director of finance, Nicholas Papadimas, making claims that Papadimas was bribed by the Jews.

When the sales were made public in 2005, Irenaios was forced to step down and Theophilos replaced him. The current patriarch brought the case before the District Court, which rejected it. Then, he appealed to the Supreme Court, which also rejected his claim.

Theophilos called the June ruling by the Supreme Court “unfair,” saying that the decision would “have negative effects on the Christian presence in the Holy City.”

According to the Jerusalem Municipality, there were 39,000 residents in the Old City as of 2016, of which 4,722 were living in the Christian Quarter.

Church leaders from several sects joined the Greek Church on Thursday for its service.

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