Palestinians angry at an Israeli court’s decision to sell church property in Jerusalem to a settler group

AMMAN: Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that a Jewish settler group legally acquired property in East Jerusalem from the Greek Orthodox Church. The decision ends a dispute over the buildings in the old town that has lasted for almost two decades.

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

The church filed charges against Ateret Cohanim, claiming the buildings had been acquired illegally.

In a decision released late Wednesday, Israel’s Supreme Court dismissed the charges, saying the “hard allegations” of misconduct by those involved in the sale had “not been proven true” in previous trials.

The church branded the verdict as “unfair” and lacked “any logical legal basis” and went on to condemn Ateret Cohanim as a “radical organization” that had “used crooked and illegal methods to acquire Christian property” at an extremely important site in Jerusalem.

The Supreme Council of Churches in Palestine called the decision Israel’s legitimacy of “stealing” church property.

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

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

“My client, Mohammad Abu Waleed Dajani, has a long-term protected lease with the Patriarchate and current law prevents tenants from being evicted,” Hanna said, adding he was confident his tenant would be able to stay at the hotel “if the Israeli government respect the existing laws”.

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

“The court is not acting in a legal or even ethical way, but as an executor of the Israeli government’s decision, and is giving in under pressure from groups like Ateret Cohanim,” he said. “The Israeli Supreme Court is politicized in favor of a racist policy aimed at stealing Muslim and Christian holy sites.”

Reverend Munther Isaac, pastor of the Beit Sahour Lutheran Church, told Arab News that the Israeli government “defended these extremists and created a discriminatory legal and regulatory system 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 positions in Arab Jerusalem.

Mansour said that the international community is currently “distracted” by other issues and that the Israeli government is taking advantage of this to step up anti-Palestinian activities. The only positive thing about Israel’s recent aggression, including its attacks on Al-Aqsa and the assassination of Al-Jazeera reporter Shereen Abu Akleh, is that it has shown the world that Palestinians are fighting for their rights and they have sparked a surge of solidarity with Palestinians around the world.

The church has pledged to use “all influence and means” to prevent the eviction of the hotel tenants.

The Patriarchate said it would “continue to support the Palestinian tenants in their steadfastness in these Christian properties,” adding that it was “steadfast” in its fight to “curb the racist policies and agenda of the far right in Israel.” undermine the multiple identity of the city of Jerusalem and impose a new reality on it.”

Palestinians have long claimed that the proposed takeover of the strategically located hotel, along with the forced “expulsion” of Palestinian families from Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods, was politically motivated and part of Israel’s effort to ethnic-cleanse Jerusalem’s Palestinians.

Since Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem in June 1967, organizations such as Elad and Ateret Cohanim, with support from the Israeli state, judiciary, and security services, have worked to seize control of Palestinian property in Jerusalem as part of their efforts to establish a Jewish majority in Jerusalem to ensure the city. This program is said to include the construction of new colonial tourist attractions such as the City of David.

In March, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilus III, condemned the settlers’ planned takeover of the hotel as “a threat to Christian existence” and warned that the settler group would “hijack” Jerusalem by force.

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

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