Patriarch Theophilos III said the lower court ruling was «politically motivated» and said the church would appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court.
Palestinian Greek Orthodox Church moves to block Jerusalem land sale
The Greek Orthodox patriarch in the Holy Land announced on Saturday that his church will appeal an Israeli court decision to approve the sale of church property to companies representing Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem.
The church has been fighting the property deal in court for the past decade, arguing it was conducted illegally by a since-deposed patriarch and therefore invalid.
Two weeks ago, the Jerusalem District Court upheld the sale, enabling three large properties near the Old City’s Jaffa Gate to be leased for 99 years to Ateret Cohanim – an Israeli organisation which works to create a Jewish majority in Jerusalem through the purchase of Palestinian properties.
Israel rejects any partition of the city and since the 1967 occupation has transferred 200,000 Jewish settlers to East Jerusalem.
Patriarch Theophilos III said on Saturday that the lower court ruling was «politically motivated» and that the church would appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court.
The church will do «everything within its power so that this unjust ruling will be overturned», he said at a news conference in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
The patriarch also expressed concerns about alleged efforts by Israeli MPs to restrict the rights of his church and other Christian denominations in the Holy Land to deal independently with their real estate holdings.
He urged the heads of churches to find a joint response to «this alarming and serious development» that he said will affect Christians in the region and around the world.
«We cannot stress too highly the extreme seriousness of the situation,» Theophilos said. He called on world leaders to intervene.
The majority of Palestinian Christians in the occupied Palestinian territory, Israel, and Jordan are Greek Orthodox and belong to the church led by Theophilos.
The Greek Orthodox Church is one of the largest property owners in the Holy Land, including the Old City, but has seen growing discontent over the administration of its land leases amid accusations of selling properties to Israeli developers.
Critics have repeatedly demanded that the church provide details on its holdings, but the church on Saturday declined to comment.
While most Orthodox churches have national leadership, Greek officials dominate the church in Palestine, leading to claims that it is unrepresentative of the local Palestinian Christian population.
Palestinian Christians have played an outsized role in the national movement despite only representing around two to three percent of the population.
Prominent thinkers, scholars and political leaders such as Edward Said, George Habash, and Hanan Ashrawi are from the minority religious group.