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Israel court freezes sale of Jerusalem church buildings to Jewish settler group

Image of a Russian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem's old city on 16 September 2013 [Saeed Qaq//Apaimages]
An Orthodox Church in Jerusalem's old city on 16 September 2013 [Saeed Qaq//Apaimages]

An Israeli court has frozen the sale of three church buildings in Jerusalem to a Jewish settler group, responding to a request from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, reported Haaretz.

Ateret Cohanim, “a Jewish organization which seeks to increase Jewish presence in the Old City”, claims to have legally purchased the buildings, “strategically located in East Jerusalem”.

A Jerusalem District Court judge granted the request yesterday, but, as Haaretz reported, “the ruling was not made on the merits of the case”.

Instead, “it was made by default after three foreign shell companies affiliated with Ateret Cohanim failed to file a response to the church’s motion by the required deadline.”

The judge also ordered the companies to pay the Patriarchate 50,000 shekels ($14,400) in legal expenses and court costs.

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As reported by Haaretz, “the contested sale 14 years ago included two large hotels, the New Imperial and the Petra, which overlook the Jaffa Gate”, with a third building in the Christian Quarter.

In 2018, a different judge ruled that, despite “problems with the sale of the property, the church had not proven that the transactions were the product of bribery or corruption and the sale was valid.” In June this year, that ruling was confirmed by the Israeli Supreme Court.

That final decision, as Haaretz noted, “paved the way for Ateret Cohanim to ultimately take over the buildings and evict their residents in the future.”

In August, the Patriarchate claimed to have uncovered newly discovered evidence which exposed alleged “fraud, forgery of documents presented in court and bribery, including alleged attempted sexual bribery”, on the part of Ateret Cohanim.

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