JERUSALEM (ChurchMilitant.com) - Heads of Christian churches in Jerusalem are warning that Jewish "radical groups" are upsetting a delicate coexistence among the city's religious groups.
Thirteen patriarchs and other church leaders issued a joint declaration last week, sounding the alarm over efforts to acquire land in the Christian section of Jerusalem by Jewish organization Ateret Cohanim. In their declaration, Christian leaders assert that an ongoing legal battle is more than a "simple property dispute" and point to a broader pattern of behavior.
"The real estate dispute highlights the design of forces that have long worked to sabotage 'the historic Status Quo of the Holy Places and the rights of the universally recognized Churches,' which must be protected from any attack," as reported by Infovaticana.
Daniel Luria, executive director of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, flatly denies the organization's involvement in the property sales. In remarks to Church Militant, Luria said the sale of the properties involved private investors. "All you have to do is look at the court documents," he said.
He also asked, "Why shouldn't Jews be able to buy property in Jerusalem?"
Infovaticana also claims Jewish groups have been working to establish a Jewish majority in the Old City of Jerusalem for years. In 2004, three properties were acquired from the Greek Orthodox Church in the Christain sector. The Jerusalem District Court in late June affirmed the sale. Christians, however, are desperately trying to keep the legal battle alive.
Vatican news source Agenzia Fides reports that Ateret Cohanim and similar groups are "committed to acquiring ecclesiastical properties in the so-called Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem" and "aim to sabotage the plural identity of the Holy City, obstruct the Christian pilgrim route and weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem."
In a 2019 ruling, at least one Israeli Supreme Court justice indicated thought the sale was suspicious and said there were "shadows and black holes in the process that led to the signing of the agreements."
Irenaios Skopelitis, the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem from 2000–2005, was the religious head of 100,000 Christians in the Holy Land, most of whom were Palestinian. He was held responsible for the sale.
The Palestinian Authority investigated the transaction and called it "treachery." It described the political motivations of the buyers: "They seek to buy Arab property within the walls of the Old City and in East Jerusalem and in various locations, with the aim of expanding Israeli control over settlement sites in Arab Jerusalem."
Two of the three properties acquired in 2004, the Hotel Petra and the Hotel Imperial, are located near the Jaffa Gate, considered the most direct entry into the Christian quarter and the most popular entry into the Old City, making it very valuable to both sides and thus well worth the 16-year battle.
Some news outlets claim individual Jewish investors behind the acquisition represented Ateret Cohanim. According to media sources, the Israeli group relied heavily on donations from American Jewish businessman Irving Moskowitz and his wife, Cherna Moskowitz. Moskowitz made his fortune building hospitals and casinos. He supported a number of Republican/Anti-Obama causes.
Ateret Cohanim's U.S. affiliate says the organization's mission is "to fulfill a generations-old dream of rebuilding and securing a united Jerusalem, strengthening our Jewish roots and reestablishing the once-thriving Jewish communities that were destroyed by Arab pogroms and the coordinated efforts of Arab countries before 1967."
When Moskowitz takes over a property, it's seemingly no holds barred. The Jerusalem Post describes how Moskowitz' representatives evicted a family from their home. According to the report, the representatives arrived on a Sunday morning "guarded by a private security detail, nailed metal sheeting over the doorway and used barbed wire to prevent anyone from entering the room where they had lived." This, reportedly, was the first step in taking over the entire building.
Following the controversial sale in 2004, Irenaios was deposed and demoted to a monk one year later. Since then, he has led a mostly cloistered life in a third-floor apartment in the compound of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.
A New York Times profile says Irenaios sees his confinement "as a kind of 'martyrdom' imposed by hostile forces 'aiming for our psychological and bodily annihilation.' It was the result of a scheme by interest groups, he said, that was 'diabolical in its conception.'"