Seller’s remorse at the Petra Hostel and the New Imperial Hotel

The wheels of justice grind slowly in the holy city, but now, nearly 15 years later, the Supreme Court upheld the sale in a June ruling

Tourists look at the Dome of the Rock, located in Jerusalem's Old City on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount (photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
Tourists look at the Dome of the Rock, located in Jerusalem's Old City on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
Although the Petra Hostel and the New Imperial Hotel in the Old City were sold back in 2005 by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, apparently the Church has a strong case of seller’s remorse. After selling off the properties to a Jewish investor, the Church turned around and sued to try and annul the deal.
The wheels of justice grind slowly in the holy city, but now, nearly 15 years later, the Supreme Court upheld the sale in a June ruling. Nevertheless, unsatisfied with the decision, the Greek Orthodox Church now claims to have uncovered new evidence – of forgery, no less – to support their old claims.
While the typical left-wing voices have rallied behind the Patriarchate’s cries against the further “Judaizing” of Jerusalem, I was particularly bothered that Jerusalem Post columnist Gil Troy joined the chorus in his recent column “Magnanimous Zionists Should Save the New Imperial Hotel and Jaffa Gate,” on August 1, 2019.
Troy is a professor, historian and recent author of The Zionist Ideas, and so well aware of the Greek Orthodox Church’s nefarious relationship with Israel and the Jewish people. Just this past Holocaust Remembrance Day, Ambassador to Greece Irit Ben-Abba commented that “Antisemitism in Greece originated in the Orthodox Church.” Prof. Troy should know better than to support their absurd arguments.
In his article, Troy takes aim at Ateret Cohanim, the Jewish organization that restores and rebuilds Jewish life throughout Jerusalem. Troy argues that “Ateret Cohanim should drop its battle to destroy the New Imperial Hotel” and accuses the organization of a “real estate grab.” He further claims the hotels are “Palestinian landmarks” that should be protected from Jewish ownership.
I have two problems with Troy’s article.
The first is his unfair attack on Ateret Cohanim. Troy presents only one side of the story, describing in glowing terms the “legendary” Dajani family who are tenants of the Greek Church and who will now have to find another location for their hotel. Troy calls the Dajanis “activists for Muslim moderation” yet some family members have been quoted in the media as they “prepare for battle” and call for others to join their “fight” against the “rape of Jaffa Gate.”
At no point does Troy quote representatives of Ateret Cohanim to articulate their point of view. Rather, he suggests that Ateret Cohanim has a sinister plot to “bulldoze precious sites like the Jaffa Gate entrance area for another yeshiva.”
Ateret Cohanim has a practice of not commenting on sensitive land acquisitions, yet that doesn’t mean they have plans to pave paradise and put up a parking lot – or heaven forbid, a yeshiva – as Troy suggests.
In the past, Arabs from the Old City who have sold their properties to Jews have been beaten and even killed by Palestinians for the “crime” of selling land to the Jewish enemy.
Just this past November, Bethlehem resident Isaam Akel sold his home in the Muslim Quarter to Jews. Akel was arrested and beaten by the Palestinian Authority, and Ateret Cohanim worked behind the scenes to resettle him safely in the United States.
So while the Dajanis are at odds with their Jewish landlord and the Greek Patriarch is accusing Ateret Cohanim of illegalities, the organization is following their responsible practice of not responding. Far from being an extremist, radical Jewish group that harms Muslims, Ateret Cohanim has gone to great lengths protecting the lives of countless Palestinians in their quest to restore Jewish life throughout Jerusalem.
MY SECOND argument with Troy’s article is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Jews purchasing land anywhere in Jerusalem.
It goes without saying that in the only democracy in the Middle East, Muslims can buy property anywhere in the Jewish state. We all know that Arab families can and do acquire real estate in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods like East Talpiot, Ramat Eshkol and French Hill without op-eds decrying the destruction of the Jewish character of those neighborhoods.
As the largest private landowner in Jerusalem, the Greek Orthodox Church are not naive real estate novices. They own the land on which the Knesset and the prime minister’s residence are located and know the value of their holdings more than anyone. They have in the past relied on Israeli courts to protect their interests. Nevertheless, the Patriarchate responded to losing their court case by calling on heads of states, heads of churches from around the world and “all those who strive for peace and justice in the Holy Land, to protect the historic and legal doctrine of the ‘status quo,’ relating to the Holy Shrines and to defend the Holy Sites from all underhanded and immoral dealings.”
I am not sure what “Holy Shrine” lies within the walls of the reportedly decrepit Old City properties. One recent guest wrote in a review on that the Petra Hostel, “honestly looks like the room was not renovated since Jesus was around. The room was filthy, there were holes in the walls, there were no towels and no hot water and the man working at the place had an attitude.”
I also don’t know when the Patriarchate decided to start the clock on their flimsy “status quo” argument. Yes, the Greek Church owned the properties for the last number of decades. However, before it was the Petra, the building was known as the Amdursky Hotel back in 1898 and was the first kosher guest house in the Old City whose prominent visitors included Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook and Zeev Jabotinsky.
I do know, however, that in addition to the moral and legal arguments in favor of the new Jewish owners of the Old City properties, the argument for Jewish ownership in Jerusalem goes back much further, to a book supposedly honored by even the Greek Orthodox.
The first Jerusalem real estate acquisition in recorded history was made by none other than King David three thousand years ago, as recorded in the Bible.
At the conclusion of the Book of Samuel, Araunah the Jebusite offered his threshing floor on Mount Moriah to David as a gift.
“But the king replied to Araurah, ‘No, I will buy it from you at a price. I cannot sacrifice to Hashem my God burnt offerings that have cost me nothing.’ So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for 50 shekel of silver. And David built there an altar to Hashem and sacrificed burnt offerings and offerings of well-being. Hashem responded to the plea for the land and the plague against Israel was checked.” (II Samuel 24:24-25)
If only Araunah the Jebusite knew how much that threshing floor was worth today, he probably would also have seller’s remorse.
The writer is the director of Israel365 and editor of The Israel Bible, the first Bible to highlight the connection between the Land and the People of Israel.