Photo Credit: Juandev via Wikimedia
Omar Ben el-Hatab Street in Jerusalem

The Jerusalem District Court on Monday ruled that the Ateret Cohanim association has legal rights over three large areas in strategic locations in the Old City of Jerusalem, currently populated by Arab residents, Maariv reported.

Three foreign real estate companies in 2004 signed under a veil of great secrecy three different contracts with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate which owned the assets.

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In the first transaction, Berisford Investments Limited purchased a lease for the Petra Hotel, a four-story building located at Omar Ibn al-Hatab Square, between the Jaffa Gate and the Arab market. It is a 99-year lease, with an option for another 99 years.

The second transaction, under similar lease terms, Richards Marketing Corporation acquired the adjacent two-story Imperial Hotel, with the stores below.

In the third transaction, Gallow Global Limited acquired the rights to a structure called Beit Azmiya, in the Bab a-Khuta neighborhood of the Old City.

Ateret Cohanim, which deals with the redemption of land in Jerusalem, is credited with locating the assets and negotiating for their purchase.

Most of the buildings on the street, which stretches across the area between the entrance to the Old City at the Jaffa Gate and the Arab market, were owned for many years by the Greek Orthodox Church.

The Church, which was humiliated by the revelations of the three spectacular purchases, initially denied they had ever been signed by Patriarch Irenaios Skopelitis and that any monetary consideration was received in exchange for them.

Then the same church claimed the director of its finance department had acted without authorization when he made the sale.

Judge Gila Kanfi-Steinitz, deputy head of the Jerusalem district court, ruled that there is no dispute that Irenaios had the authority to enter into agreements on behalf of the Church, and that there is no doubt that the director of the church’s finance department who signed the agreements acted as his proxy.

Judge Knafi-Steinitz rejected the claim that its saintly leader had received bribes, which the other side denied. She ruled that “the defendants did not provide sufficient proof on the required level to their claims of bribery or corruption that underlie the transactions. Therefore, the result is that it is necessary to determine that the three transactions are valid,” she concluded.

The judge also ruled that “there is no disputing the fact that the plaintiffs were paid the full consideration for the transactions.”

And so, starting this week, the three companies affiliated with the Ateret Cohanim association are the proud holders of a large portion of the entrance to the Old City from the direction of Jaffa Gate, as well as in another area in the Bab a-Khuta neighborhood.

The office of Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem (who replaced the deposed Irenaios in 2005), stated that he intended to appeal the ruling.

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