Greek Orthodox Church sells land in Israel, worrying Israelis and Palestinians: parallel: NPR – tech2.org

Greek Orthodox Church sells land in Israel, worrying Israelis and Palestinians: parallel: NPR



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Dmitri Diliani, a Palestinian member of the Greek Orthodox Church, stands on the roof of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem overlooking the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which houses the traditional tomb of Jesus.

Daniel Estrin / NPR


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Daniel Estrin / NPR

Dmitri Diliani, a Palestinian member of the Greek Orthodox Church, stands on the roof of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem overlooking the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which houses the traditional tomb of Jesus.

Daniel Estrin / NPR

The secret real estate deals in the Holy Land put one of the most powerful and ancient churches in Jerusalem in the spotlight.

The Greek Orthodox Church calls itself the second largest landowner in Israel, after the Israeli government. He says he owns approximately 30 percent of the walled old city of Jerusalem, the historic core of the city, and controls the largest participation of any Christian denomination in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, home to the traditional tomb of Jesus. It also owns land throughout Jerusalem, Israel and the West Bank.

But in recent years, church leaders have silently sold several properties to anonymous investors led by companies registered in remote tax havens. Israeli and Jewish businessmen were named later as some of the buyers.

These agreements have recently been made public, causing panic among Israelis whose apartments are built on church grounds and causing small but growing public protests by some members of the Palestinian church.

The leadership of the church is dominated by Greek citizens, but the local followers of the church are largely Palestinian. Some Palestinians are concerned about possible implications for their quest for independence.

"We are worried because these are the properties of the church, and these properties are decreasing year after year," said Hanna Amireh, a Palestinian official in charge of the church. matters "This is part of our land, one way or another, we do not want this land to be sold … to our enemy."

The question of land ownership hits the core of the Israeli-Palestinian-war tugboat on Jerusalem. Israel captured East Jerusalem, whose holy sites include the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Wailing Wall, in 1967. But the Palestinians demand that part of the city as the capital of a future independent state.

The Earth The saga of disputes began a decade ago at the Jaffa Gate, the most prominent entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem, where many pilgrims go to the most revered religious sites in the city. Just inside the door there are two hotels run by Palestinian families, but owned by the Greek Orthodox Church.

In 2005, an Israeli newspaper reported on a secret agreement reached the previous year by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate – the leadership of the church – to sell the hotels to Ateret Cohanim, a group of Jewish settlers seeking to buy Palestinian properties in places strategic in Jerusalem to increase Jewish control in the disputed city.

The sale of the church caused an uproar among the Palestinians of the Greek Orthodox community. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch Irenaios was accused of conspiring to sell the property. Rumors swirled over the patriarch's relationship with the young man who conducted the secret property deals with the power of the patriarch.

The scandal led to the expulsion of Irenaios, which sparked another drama.

The portrait of Patriarch Theophilos III the entrance to the East Imperial Hotel in the Old City of Jerusalem, a property that the previous patriarch sold to a Jewish settler organization in a controversial sale that led to the expulsion of the previous patriarch. Patriarch Theophilos is fighting to nullify the sale in the Israeli court.

Daniel Estrin / NPR


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The portrait of Patriarch Theophilus III observes the entrance to the Oriental Imperial Hotel in the Old City of Jerusalem, a property that the previous patriarch sold to an organization of Jewish settlers in a controversial sale that led to the overthrow of the previous patriarch. Patriarch Theophilos is fighting to nullify the sale in the Israeli court.

Daniel Estrin / NPR

For years, Irenaios locked herself in her apartment in the church building in the Old City of Jerusalem, refusing to accept his expulsion and fearing that she would be blocked if she left the premises. A sympathetic Palestinian shopkeeper brought him food, which Irenaios hoisted to his window with a rope.

A new ecclesiastical leader was appointed, the patriarch Teófilo III, who is now fighting in an Israeli court to annul the aforementioned sale, during the term of his predecessor. of property owned by the church at the Jaffa Gate. Recently, a lower court considered that the sale was adequate, and the patriarch is appealing before the Supreme Court of Israel.

But Theophilos is now on the defensive. The news was first broken this summer on additional land offers, which he personally approved.

More details on land transactions have been reported in the Israeli press in recent weeks and months.

Many of the offers in question are land that the church leased in the 1950s to institutions affiliated with the Israeli government, such as the Jewish National Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to obtaining land and developing Jewish communities in Israel. .

The church sold lands in the exclusive coastal cities of Caesarea and Jaffa to companies registered in the Caribbean. In other deals, Israeli investors bought large tracts of land in the most luxurious neighborhoods of West Jerusalem. When the long-term lease of the land expires in a few decades, these companies will decide the fate of the apartments in those lands.

The tenants of the area say that the value of their properties has decreased drastically due to the uncertainty.

"I'm not doing any renovations," said Nava Bat-Zur, whose apartment is on land sold by the church. "It's hard to sell these properties."

He helped residents press the Israeli authorities to do something to solve their problem.

One of the many properties owned by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem.

Daniel Estrin / NPR


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Daniel Estrin / NPR

One of the many properties owned by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem.

Daniel Estrin / NPR

A bill in the Israeli parliament proposes that the government immediately expropriate the lands of the Greek Orthodox Church if they are sold to private investors.

That has alarmed churches in many denominations based in Jerusalem, and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch is now conducting a rare public campaign, recording a video message in English warning of an "badault" on the church and touring International, meeting with the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and other faith leaders, to obtain support for the property rights of the churches.

Local members of the Palestinian church discuss whether property sales are actually benefiting the local herd.

"All that [money] was put into projects that serve the preservation of the Christian community in the Holy Land" schools and a housing project for members of the Palestinian church in East Jerusalem, said Dmitri Diliani, a member of the Palestinian church that supports the patriarch's dealings.

Ghbadan Mun Ayyer, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and a member of the church who opposes land deals, argues that other churches in the Holy Land invest more in their local herd than the rich Greek Orthodox Church. He says that the patriarch has not communicated with the community to explain the recent land agreements.

"We always ask, why do you dishonor us? Why do you hate us so much?" said Munayyer. "Nothing is invested in the local community, and now our land is sold."

The church has made about two dozen large land deals in Israel, the West Bank and Jerusalem in recent years, according to a Greek Orthodox. Patriarchate official who spoke with NPR on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized by the church to speak openly about the matter.

The official offered a defense for some of the latest land transactions. In the case of the Jewish National Fund, he said the fund asked the church to renew its lease on a large area of ​​land in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem. The land was leased to the JNF in the early 1950s for a period of 99 years, and the JNF wanted to negotiate a new lease early.

The church said that the JNF made a low offer for the new contract, and the church felt their hands were tied, believing that they could not really refuse the offer and evict tenants from their exclusive neighborhood. In addition, he said, the church was under pressure from Israeli officials to extend the lease of land.

Then the church sold the land to an Israeli investor, and the church got rid of a "headache," the official said. .

Other church properties were sold, either to generate income or to get rid of the properties that had caused the church's problems, he said. One was sold after it was discovered that the church was breaking the contract and an Israeli court ordered to pay millions of dollars in damages, including threatening the Israeli expropriation of a property of the Greek Orthodox monastery in a politically sensitive part of East Jerusalem, said the official.

"None of these agreements jeopardizes the future dream of the Palestinian people, none is diverting endowments," said the official, referring to the churches and monasteries that are considered ecclesiastical properties.

In a city disputed by both Israelis and Palestinians, the history of land owned by the church in Jerusalem has always been delicate.

A former Israeli city planner, Israel Kimhi, said he drew a map of all land owned by the church in Jerusalem for an atlas that helped prepare the early 1970s. But he said the Israeli government censor forbade the map to be released to the public.

"See the amount of land that is owned by others, not the Israelis, in those sensitive areas, at that time, the government decided it was not good to show it," Kimhi said.

As the public learns more about the possessions of the Greek Orthodox Church, it has opened a box of Pandora concerns about the future of the city, because other churches own land and property in Jerusalem.

Some fear that investors with deep pockets and ideological ambitions – Israelis want a foothold in a Palestinian area of ​​the city, or vice versa – can pressure a church to sell property, giving Israelis or Palestinians a victory over in the real battle for control of the city.

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