Israel’s Supreme Court rejected the appeal of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem trying to block the sale of three buildings belonging to them in the Old City of Jerusalem, and bought by the Jewish organization Ateret Cohanim. According to the June 10 decision of the Court, the properties under appeal by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate were legitimately purchased by foreign intermediaries acting on behalf of Ateret Cohanim. Thus was confirmed the decision of the District Court of Jerusalem issued two years ago.
In 2017, after the decision of the Jerusalem District Court, which had already recognized the legitimate acquisition of the buildings by Ateret Cohanim, the patriarchs and heads of the churches of Jerusalem had signed a joint document in which they denounced “the systematic attempt to undermine the integrity of the Holy City” and the efforts to “weaken the Christian presence in the Holy Land”. According to the signatories, this was also manifested in the “violations of the status quo” of the holy sites. The same document, signed among others by Mgr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and by Theophilos III, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, expressed a firm opposition to “any action” on the part of “any authority or group” having the effect of violating and undermining “the laws, agreements, and regulations that had been in effect for centuries”.
A scandal over property sales hit the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem in 2004-2005, eventually leading to the removal of Patriarch Irenaios I. He was replaced by the current patriarch, Theophilos III.
Patriarch Irenaios had first denied knowing anything about the sales, but then admitted they had been done without the Church’s authorization by Nicholas Papadimas, the Church’s director of finance, bribed by Ateret Cohanim to sell the buildings at a price below their market value.
The properties are the Petra Hotel, the Imperial Hotel, and the Beit Azmiya, all sold to three foreign real estate companies through Ateret Cohanim, which negotiates the purchase of Arab-owned properties in East Jerusalem. These companies now own large areas of the entrance to the Old City around the Jaffa Gate.