(photo credit: Courtesy of J'lem Municipality http://tour.jerusal)
The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel on Sunday withdrew a petition it had filed with the High Court of Justice against last week's government decision to transfer ownership of Sergei's Courtyard in downtown Jerusalem to the Russian government.
The petitioners had alleged that the Olmert administration is a caretaker government that cannot make such a far-reaching move regarding the property in Jerusalem's Russian Compound neighborhood. Israel acquired some 90 percent of the Russian Compound from the Soviet Union in 1964 for $3.5 million. Sergei's Courtyard, however, was part of the remaining 10%, and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been keen on securing control of the site.
High Court justices advised the Forum to withdraw the petition after the Attorney-General's Office presented evidence it said proved that "the transfer of ownership to Russia is essential to Israel's diplomatic ties." The justices said they had been presented with confidential documents that supported the cabinet's decision and showed the move was necessary to the state's foreign policy.
The tenants in Sergei's Courtyard expressed sadness at the news.
The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, or SPNI, has its national headquarters in the compound, having signed a lease in the early 1970s.
Only a few visitors could be found roaming the courtyard's garden on Sunday. In one corner of the SPNI's library, two girls were poring over horticultural notes.
"You're lucky you didn't come here tomorrow, we'd be closed by then," a guide said with resigned exasperation. "We don't know where we will go or what will happen to us. Soon we'll all have to be studying Russian, because they're going to move in soon."
The status of the tenants has yet to be decided. However, they believe it is only a matter of when, not if, they will have to leave.
The compound contains exquisite architecture and immaculate gardens, featuring a sloping cobblestone cistern and turrets, and was competed in 1890.
The tower is named for a brother of Czar Alexander III, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, who in 1892, as the governor of Moscow, expelled the Jews from the city.