Amman: The Greek Orthodox patriarch in the Holy Land announced Saturday that his church will appeal an Israeli court decision that approved the sale of prime church property to companies representing Jews seeking to expand their presence in Occupied Jerusalem’s Old City.
The church had challenged the property deal in court for the past decade, arguing it was conducted illegally by the since-deposed previous patriarch and was therefore invalid.
The Occupied Jerusalem District Court upheld the deal two weeks ago, paving the way for three large properties near the Old City’s Jaffa Gate to be leased for 99 years to Ateret Cohanim, a group that has been buying properties for Jewish colonists in Occupied East Jerusalem.
Patriarch Theophilos III alleged Saturday that the lower court ruling was “politically motivated” and said 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 of Amman.
Theophilos leads a predominantly Palestinian flock of 220,000 Christians in Jordan, the Occupied West Bank, Gaza and 1948 areas.
The Greek Orthodox church is one of the largest property owners in the Holy Land, including in Occupied Jerusalem’s Old City.
The Old City is part of East Jerusalem, captured and occupied by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The patriarch also expressed concern about what he said was an effort by some members of Israel’s parliament 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.
In recent years, there have been growing tensions between the predominantly Greek church leadership and the Palestinian flock, including over the administration of the vast property holdings and land leases to Israel in occupied west Jerusalem.
Critics have repeatedly demanded that the church provide details about its holdings.
On Saturday, church officials declined to answer when asked about the holdings.
Jewish groups have increasingly tried to take control over prime areas of real estate near Al Haram Al Sharif, Islam’s third holiest site.
Palestinians say that Israel has been conducting a systematic campaign against Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem, including banning Palestinians from burying their dead in specific parts of Bab Al Rahma cemetery, a resting place for many of the city’s historic figures.
They also have removed Arabic signage from many streets replacing them instead with Hebrew signs in an attempt to Judaise the city and erase any Palestinian or Muslim identity.
Israeli rarely issues building permits for expanding families and routinely demolishes Palestinian homes in occupied Jerusalem.
It has also tacitly encourage far-right Jewish groups to raid Al Haram Al Sharif.
Jews are allowed to visit Al Haram Al Sharif, but not perform religious rituals there, according to a long-standing status quo agreement. Attempts by Israel’s regime to change the status quo have led to escalating violence and tensions which have claimed the lives of hundreds of Palestinians and dozens of Israelis.
Israel’s regime took over Al Haram Al Sharif and the entire eastern part of Jerusalem and annexed it during the 1967 Middle East war, but left the Jordanian Waqf Department to administer and run the Muslim holy sites in a historic status quo agreement which governs access to the holy shrine.
Ongoing incursions by Jews on Al Haram Al Sharif premises have been the largest instigator of violence since last year.
Al Haram Al Sharif site houses both Al Aqsa Mosque which was originally commissioned to be built under Omar, the second Caliph in Islam in the 7th century, and the Dome of the Rock which houses the rock from which Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) ascended to heaven, according to Islamic teachings.