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Palestinian Christians call on Greek Orthodox Patriarch to resign over land sales

Sept. 10, 2017 11:07 A.M. (Updated: Sept. 10, 2017 11:59 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Hundreds of Palestinians protesting outside of the Jaffa Gate entrance to occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City reportedly called for the resignation of Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III on Saturday, over the alleged sale of church property to Israeli settler groups.

According to Palestinian Wafa news agency, the demonstration came after the Palestinian Arab Greek Orthodox community took steps to escalate protests against the sale of church property to Jewish developers and settler groups. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate is one of the largest real estate owners in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

Palestinian Muslims and Christians took part in the demonstration, though the majority were Greek Orthodox Christians who came from various cities to tell their patriarch that it wasn’t his right to sell property that belongs to the community, Wafa reported.

Activists argue that the property in question has religious, historical, and strategic value to Christians in the Holy Land and its ownership should not go to any other party.

Protesters also presented documents purporting to show that the patriarch sold land in Jerusalem, while some raised banners reading “Theophilos is unworthy,” the Associated Press said.

They called for the resignation of Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III and his synod, demanding to replace the current Greek clergy with Palestinian Arabs.

Last month, Palestinian Orthodox Christians lodged a criminal complaint with the Palestinian Authority attorney general against the patriarch, over the sale and lease of church property in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Nazareth, and elsewhere, accusing the church primate of “treason,” “selling property to the enemy,” and “contributing to Israeli plans to Judaize Jerusalem.”

The church has been accused numerous times over the years of selling its leasing rights over land in Jerusalem to Jewish Israeli investors, with Israeli financial newspaper Calcalist reporting in June that the Orthodox Patriarchate had sold the rights to 500 dunams in August 2016 for 114 million shekels ($32 million), a move to be effective in 2050, when the Jewish National Fund’s lease of the land is set to expire.

Detractors have accused the patriarchate of contributing to Israeli plans to “Judaize” Jerusalem by selling or leasing off large amounts of land to Israeli authorities and businesspeople, betraying the church’s responsibility to protect Palestinian lands that were handed under its care during the Ottoman period.
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