Lebanon bases its hopes of recovery on the influx of tourists

Palestinians furious at Israeli court ruling on sale of Jerusalem church land to settler group

AMMAN: Israel’s highest court has ruled that a group of Jewish settlers lawfully purchased property in East Jerusalem from the Greek Orthodox Church. The decision ends a dispute over buildings in the Old City that has been going on for nearly two decades.

The Ateret Cohanim organization, which seeks to “Judaize” East Jerusalem annexed by Israel, bought three church buildings in a controversial secret deal struck in 2004. The sale sparked fury among Palestinians and led to the dismissal of Patriarch Irineos I.

The church filed a complaint against Ateret Cohanim, claiming that the buildings had been acquired illegally.

In a ruling on Wednesday evening, Israel’s Supreme Court dismissed the charges, saying “severe allegations” of misconduct by those involved in the sale had “not been proven” in previous proceedings.

The church slammed the move as “unfair” and lacking “any logical legal basis” and went on to condemn Ateret Cohanim as a “radical organization” that used “twisted and illegal methods to acquire Christian real estate” on an extremely important site in Jerusalem.

The Supreme Presidential Council of Churches in Palestine described the decision as an Israeli legitimization of the “theft” of church property.

The court’s decision means that a proposed takeover by Israeli settlers of the Imperial Hotel has now been potentially facilitated.

Maher Hanna, the Palestinian lawyer for the family that runs the hotel, told Arab News the move means his client is now the “last line of defense” to protect the Palestinian presence in the area.

“My client, Mohammad Abu Waleed Dajani, has a protected long-term tenancy agreement with the patriarchy and applicable law prevents tenants from being evicted,” Hanna said, adding that he is confident his tenant will be able to stay in the hotel “if the Israeli government respects the laws in force”.

Ramzi Khoury, head of the Palestinian Presidential Church Commission, called the court’s decision a “racist and extremist decision” against Palestinians in Jerusalem. Khoury believes the purpose of the court’s decision is to facilitate the deportation of Palestinian Jerusalemites from their city.

“The court is not acting legally, or even ethically, but rather as an enforcer of the Israeli government’s decision and (it) bows under pressure from groups such as Ateret Cohanim,” he said. “The Israeli High Court is being politicized in favor of a racist policy to rob Muslim and Christian holy sites.”

Reverend Munther Isaac, pastor of the Beit Sahour Lutheran Church, told Arab News that the Israeli government “defends these extremists and has created a system of discriminatory laws and regulations that protects and supports these radical Jewish groups.”

Botrus Mansour, a Nazareth-based lawyer, told Arab News that all branches of the right-wing Israeli government, including the Supreme Court, are trying to control key locations in Arab Jerusalem.

Mansour said that the international community is currently “distracted” by other issues and that the Israeli government is taking the opportunity to step up its anti-Palestinian activities. The only positive that emerged from Israel’s recent aggression, including its attacks on Al-Aqsa and the murder of Al-Jazeera journalist Shereen Abu Akleh, he said, was that it demonstrated to the world that Palestinians are fighting for their rights and have sparked a surge of solidarity with Palestinians around the world.

The church pledged to use “all influence and means” at its disposal to prevent the forced eviction of the hotel tenants.

The Patriarchate said it would “continue to support Palestinian tenants in their steadfastness in these Christian properties”, adding that it is “unwavering” in its battle to curb “the racist politics and agenda of the extreme right in Israel, aimed at eroding the multiple identity of the city of Jerusalem and imposing a new reality on it.

The Palestinians have long maintained that the planned takeover of the strategically located hotel, as well as the forced “evictions” of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods in Jerusalem, are politically motivated and part of the Israel’s efforts to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from Jerusalem.

Since Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem in June 1967, organizations such as Elad and Ateret Cohanim, backed by the Israeli state, judiciary and security services, have sought to gain control of Palestinian property in Jerusalem in the as part of their efforts to ensure a Jewish majority in the city. It is alleged that this program includes the construction of new colonial tourist sites, such as the City of David.

In March, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilus III, decried the settlers’ plan to take over the hotel as “a threat to Christian existence” and warned that the group of settlers were “hijacking” Jerusalem using violent coercion.

“This issue is not about individual properties, but about the whole character of Jerusalem, including the Christian Quarter,” he said.