Some 300 Greek Orthodox Christians demonstrated Saturday in the Old City of Jerusalem against the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilus III, over his decision to sell a large part of the land and property owned by the Greek Orthodox Church in Israel, Ha’aretz reported.
But unlike the common land sales that make headlines in the Israeli media, the sales in question are not of lands in Judea and Samaria or in eastern Jerusalem, where Arabs regularly note that Israel is attempting to “Jewify” what must remain ethnically pure Arab neighborhoods, in the case of the Greek Orthodox faithful the sales they protest were of land in Jerusalem’s central, affluent neighborhoods of Nayot, Talbieh and Rehavia, in territory that has been under Israeli rule since the war of 1948.
The church leased the land in western Jerusalem to JNF, but as those leases, pertaining to an estimated 1,000 housing units in these neighborhoods, will expire in the next one or two decades, depending on the location, few years, Patriarch Irenaios of Jerusalem and his successor, Patriarch Theophilos III, consented to selling the entire territory to an undisclosed group of private Jewish developers. Irenaios ruled over the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem from 2000 to 2005, when he was ousted for allegations of corruption. Theophilos III is now the subject of angry protest by his flock.
The Greek church is run by exclusively Greek clergy who minister to an exclusively Arab congregation, hence the tension in the community over decisions made by its leaders. The Arab rank and file members have watched helplessly as their masters have been selling large swaths of land to the Jews not only in western Jerusalem, but in other parts of “green-line” Israel, such as Jaffa, Caesarea, Ramleh and T’veria.
It is disturbing that the Arab protesters, many of whom are Israeli citizens, call the sale of church land to Jews in “green line” Israel an attempt to “Jewify” this territory, seeing as It has been part of Israel recognized by the entire world, including the Palestinian Authority as Jewish.
The Saturday protestors also condemned the Patriarchate’s sale of two large hotels near the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem to companies affiliated with Ateret Cohanim, a group that does redeem parts of post-1967 Israel, returning them to Jewish ownership. The sale of the two hotels and two additional buildings nearby was made during the reign of Patriarch Irineos, which was the reason for an appeal by Theophilus on the grounds that his predecessor was corrupt. The Jerusalem District Court rejected the suit.
Two weeks ago, at a press conference in Jordan, Theoopoulos attacked the court’s decision and called on the world to intervene to “protect church assets.” Of course, the church should have thought about it before deciding to appoint corrupt patriarchs.