Purchases of Greek Patriarchate land in Jerusalem by foreign-registered companies have infuriated some in the church amid claims they will change the status quo, according to the Times of Israel.
Property developer, Michael Steinhardt, and Israeli businessman, David Sofer, acquired; with a long-term lease, one-hectare (2.5-acre) hilltop site in Abu Tor, just south of the Old City, on which they plan to build 61 luxury apartments.
That site is believed by Christians to be the original Hill of Evil Counsel, where according to the New Testament, the Jewish High Priest Caiaphas and his advisers decided to betray Jesus to the Romans, the Times of Israel say.
Oranim Ltd is one of several anonymous companies that has been buying land from the country’s cash-strapped Greek Orthodox Church over the last five or so years. Those companies are registered in overseas tax havens, and the names of their investors are kept secret.
The sales have infuriated some of the church’s Palestinian members, who call for the ouster of the patriarch and the upper echelons of the hierarchy. Homeowners with leases worry whether the new landowners will renew their leases and for how long.
Oranim Ltd is believed to have bought plots on Shai Agnon, Hama’aplim, Hashayarot and Mavo HaOleh streets, as well as a stretch of open land in the San Simon Park. The company bought the land from another company, Kronty Investments Ltd, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands. Kronty’s main investor is believed to be an ultra-Orthodox Jew, living in England.
Kronty bought the plots in Givat Oranim directly from the Greek Orthodox Church. Kronty has also purchased from the patriarchate half a street in Abu Tor, and plots on Hess Street in the city center, in the southern neighborhood of Baka (Gad and Lifschitz streets), and on the upscale King David and Ben Sira Streets in downtown Jerusalem, where it is advancing plans to build hotels and commercial space.
Patriarch Theophilos III, representing all the churches of the Holy Land, is on an unprecedented international tour to whip up opposition to what the churches see as interference in their rights to manage their own properties. This, they claim, is tantamount to changing a status quo that has determined relations between church and state for decades, the Times of Israel report further says .
“Recently, we have seen the emergence of a trend that threatens to undermine the Christian presence and destabilize the peace of the holy city of Jerusalem,” Theophilos said. “The status quo, rules that have guaranteed the rights of Jews, Christians, and Muslims to live, flourish, and trade together, in Jerusalem for centuries, is in grave danger.”
The patriarch will also discuss with foreign leaders an Israeli district court’s decision in August to uphold a set of real estate deals for two hotels near the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, struck between officials from the Greek Orthodox Church under the previous patriarch with an Israeli right-wing group.
Those deals have hit a particularly sensitive nerve with Arab Christians and with Palestinians as a whole, because the properties are in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians hope will be the capital of their future state., the Times of Israel said.
The Greek Orthodox Church is one of the biggest private landowners in the country. Since the 1950s, it has leased large tracts of land to Israel, which have since been developed.
Its sales of land to private investors, over the past five years or so, only became known to the public in July.