By Rula Samain, Jordan Times
The Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem, All Palestine and Jordan Theophilos III on Saturday vowed to fight back accusations over the sale of church properties in Jerusalem.
The announcement came at a press conference in Amman, where he said: “Today, it is our call of duty and our commitment, entrusted to us by the Lord, that lead us to break our silence and say: enough is enough”.
The press meeting came after Israel’s Jerusalem District Court upheld last Monday a set of real estate deals between the Greek Orthodox Church and the Israeli organisation Ateret Cohanim for two hotels near the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, reports said.
The court ruled there was no evidence of the deals resulting from fraud or bribery. The church asserts that the deal, conducted in 2004, was conducted illegally.
“We are constrained to take this unprecedented action in calling this press conference to reject publicly and clearly the unfair ruling of the Israeli district court in the ‘Jaffa Gate’ case. This decade-long legal battle has resulted in an unjust decision which disregarded all of Patriarchate's clear and concrete legal evidence proving bad faith, bribery and conspiracy. Such a decision, in favour of the settler group, Ateret Cohanim, can only be interpreted as politically motivated,” Theophilos said as he was reading a statement in English.
“We shall be initiating an appeal process to the High Court of Justice, where we have confidence there will be a decision based purely on matters of law, procedure, and justice. The Patriarchate shall now embark on everything within its power so that this unjust ruling will be overturned.”
He said that the concern about the politicisation of the "Jaffa Gate" case is made “more acute by the recent action of 40 members of the Knesset, who two weeks ago, signed a proposed bill for debate in the Israeli parliament that would, if passed, restrict severely the rights of the churches to deal freely and independently with their land and would threaten their confiscation”.
He called on world leaders, heads of churches in the world and the international community to intervene to ensure that justice and freedom prevail in these matters.
Responding to questions by reporters, Archimandrite Christoforos Atallah said that under the Israeli occupation, the situation is too difficult.
“We are about to take measures with a reformist, legal dimension. The issue is vital for the Christian presence and endowments in Jerusalem.”
He announced that a legal committee comprising representatives of all stakeholders from different countries, including Jordan, will be formed soon to defend the properties and “stand up, in a transparent manner, to protect the church’s endowments”.
“We call for unity around the spiritual leadership of the church to overcome threats and challenges. We call for Muslim-Christian unity in this regard.” Atallah reiterated that the court ruling is of political rather than legal nature and is part of Israeli policies to empty Jerusalem from its original residents.
“We cannot tolerate any policies that force Christians to leave Jerusalem and the holy land”, he said, noting that the Christian community has been shrinking as a result of such policies.
These policies are obvious to the world, he said. “They target the demographics of the area and seek the Judaisation of Jerusalem. Taking over the lands of the holy city is a prelude to Judaisation”.