The Israeli High Court rejected the appeal of the Greek Orthodox Church, reaffirming the 2017 verdict of the Jerusalem District Court which validated the lease of three sites located in the Old City close to the Jaffa Gate to settler group Ateret Cohanim. The Supreme Court determined that the Greek Orthodox Church did not submit sufficient evidence proving the lease agreement was fraudulently concluded.
Consequently, our 2017 analysis remains largely relevant:
“On July 31, an Israeli court ruled in favor of the East Jerusalem settler group Ateret Cohanim in regards to the sale of three properties. According to the settlers, the Greek Orthodox Church sold the properties to three holding companies representing Ateret Cohanim. The Church subsequently alleged that the sale was carried out by persons who were not authorized by the Church to act. The court sided with Ateret Cohanim in upholding the sale. The Church reportedly plans to appeal. Two of the properties are located near Jaffa Gate, one of the most sensitive areas in the Old City: the Imperial hotel and the Petra hotel. This area is particularly sensitive because it is the place where all the four quarters of the Old City intersected, bordering not only the Jewish Quarter but also with the Armenian Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the entrance to the Muslim Quarter’s souk. In addition, the hotels are in possession of protected tenants. Consequently, Ateret Cohanim will likely have to respect the tenants’ rights in the immediate future, and won’t be able to carry out evictions anytime soon. But have no doubt: these highly sensitive properties are in danger of being taken over by the settlers, and as never before.”
Our appraisal of the obstacles to a settler eviction of the protected tenants who operate the hotel appears to be overly optimistic. We have learned that the settlers have indeed instituted eviction proceedings against the tenants. We are once again on the cusp of an epic legal battle over these properties, the results of which are far from certain.
It is important to highlight: this is no mere settlement takeover all too frequently witnessed in Jerusalem. The location of two of these sites – inside Jaffa gate and at the intersection of the Muslim, Christian and Armenian Quarters, and the road to the Jewish Quarter, is of strategic importance. The involvement of a prominent church – real or purported – has also caused this court verdict to resonate within the Palestinian communities of East Jerusalem, and beyond.