At a 12 August press conference in Amman, the Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem, All Palestine and Jordan Theophilos III said that a decision delivered on the 7 August by Israel’s Jerusalem District Court regarding two hotels near the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City has “crossed the lines of justice and reasonableness.”
The decision relates to a claimed real estate deal concluded in 2004, without due authority and consent, by the then finance department assistant to the deposed Patriarch Irineos, Nikolas Papadeemas and the Israeli organization Ateret Cohanim. The latter started proceedings in 2007 requesting the court to uphold the deal while the Patriarchate of Jerusalem denied their validity and fought to revoke them.
“We have stood silent, bearing patient witness to a harsh campaign against us and against our Patriarchate, that seemed to grow in strength daily with false accusations and slander, targeting our heritage and our integrity,” stated Theophilos III. “Today, it is our call of duty and our commitment, entrusted to us by the Lord, that leads us to break our silence and say: Enough is Enough.”
The court ruled there was no evidence of fraud or bribery while the church asserts that the claimed deal, was conducted without due authority, in bad faith, using conspiracy and bribery.
“We are constrained to take this unprecedented action in calling this press conference to reject publicly and clearly the unfair ruling of the Israeli District Court in the Jaffa Gate case,” said Theophilos III. The Patriarchate will initiate an appeal process, however, “This decade-long legal battle has resulted in an unjust decision which disregarded all of the Patriarchate’s clear and concrete legal evidence proving bad faith, bribery and conspiracy,” he said.
The biased decision affects not only the Patriarchate but also strikes at the heart of the Christian Quarter of the Old City, he continued. “It could well lead to escalated tension in our community that we are all working diligently to try and diffuse.”
More crucially, Theophilos III is raising the red flag on behalf of churches in the Holy Land as he believes the situation to be far more critical for all the churches, drawing on a recent proposed law, introduced by 40 members of the Knesset, that would severely restrict the rights of churches to deal freely and independently with their lands and would threaten their confiscation.
“This bill is a clear attempt to deprive our 2,000-year-old Patriarchate, as well as our fellow churches, present for centuries in the Holy Land, of our legitimate and historic freedom and independence,” Theophilos III concluded. “This intolerable bill, if passed, would be a clear violation of every international treaty that has governed the region, and would be an insupportable assault on the freedom of worship.”
Theophilos III called for an urgent meeting of the Heads of Churches of the Holy Land to coordinate opposition and response to these developments. “We cannot stress too highly the extreme seriousness of this situation,” he said.