In a landmark ruling, the Jerusalem District Court Monday upheld a set of real estate deals between the Greek Orthodox Church and the Israeli organization Ateret Cohanim for two hotel properties near Shaar Yaffo in the Old City.
Judge Gila Kanfi-Steinitz ruled there was no evidence of the deals resulting from fraud or bribery, and that the church must pay Ateret Cohanim’s legal fees, totaling $8,420.
In response to the ruling, the church published an ad in the “Al Quds” newspaper Tuesday, asserting that the deal was conducted illegally.
The agreements, originally inked in 2004, were for 99-year leases on hotel properties in one of the most visible locations in the Old City. The leases could be renewed for an additional 99 years, essentially granting Ateret Cohanim long-term possession of the buildings.
The agreements caused uproar among Arab residents and led to the deposing of then-Greek Orthodox Patriarch Irenaios Skopelitis in 2005.
The church sued Ateret Cohanim, claiming the deals were signed illegally and without the church’s authorization, initiating a years-long legal battle.
Monday’s ruling is the latest episode in a series of controversial incidents involving the Greek Orthodox Church’s sale of real estate in Israel. In July, the church sold prime real estate near the iconic clock tower in Yaffo to private investors. The patriarchate also secretly sold off 700 dunams (172 acres) of land in Caesarea in June and, in early July, secretly sold 500 dunams (123 acres) of property in some of the wealthiest neighborhoods of Yerushalayim.