The Supreme Court, sitting in its capacity as a civil appeals court, on June 3 rejected an appeal from Patriarch Theophilos III, head of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, against three real estate companies as well as former Patriarch Irenaios, who had been dismissed in disgrace in 2005. The petition claimed that Irenaios sold several parcels of church-owned land in the Old City of Jerusalem to the Jews without the proper authority to carry out the sale.
One of the three properties whose sale was disputed by the Church was the Petra Hotel, which Irenaios leased out for 99 years with an option for another 99 years, for half a million dollars, to Ateret Cohanim, an organization dedicated to creating a Jewish majority in the Old City and the neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem.
The Holy Synod of Jerusalem in 2005 announced that Irenaios had been demoted to the rank of monk and that it considered the three real estate deals conducted with his endorsement null and void. The three real estate companies sued to take possession of the properties and the church told the court that the purchases had been mired in corruption and bribery. The nine-year long court case resulted in a final win for Ateret Cohanim, at which point Israeli history buffs started revealing unknown facts about the Jewish past of the Petra hotel.
It was built in the late 1840s in front of the Tower of David, an ancient citadel located near the Jaffa Gate entrance to western edge of the Old City. The original builder was a rich merchant from Gibraltar named Yosef Amzaleg, father of Haim Amzaleg who was a leader of the Jewish community in Eretz Israel and was involved in the purchase of Petach Tikva, Rishon L’Tzion, and the neighborhood of Neve Tzedek in today’s south Tel Aviv.
The three-story building was built in a decorated European style, with stores on the ground floor and two residential floors above. But a few years later, when Yosef Amzaleg moved to Jaffa, he sold the building to the Greek Patriarchate.
From 1903 to 1931, the building was leased by Yerachmiel Amdursky, son of the owner of a kosher restaurant in Jerusalem, who named it the Amdursky Hotel. Among its guests in those years were Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, and Herbert Samuel, 1st High Commissioner for Palestine. Eliezer Ben Yehuda’s son, Itamar, had his wedding there. And David Ben Gurion’s son, Amos, celebrated his bar mitzvah there.
Amdursky moved his hotel to Ben Yehuda Street in the western city in 1931, where it was blown up by a car bomb in 1948.
Meanwhile, the building facing the citadel near Jaffa Gate was leased by a German owner, then by a Christian Arab who renamed it Continental Hotel, followed by an Arab owner who leased it in 1942 and gave it its current name, Petra Hotel.
Nowadays, the hotel served as a hostel, and features a stunning observation roof. Entry fee: 10 shekel.