In a major victory for organized efforts to increase the Jewish presence in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled against an appeal by the Greek Orthodox Church regarding a 2017 lower court decision to honor the 99-year lease of three church properties to Ateret Cohanim.
Ateret Cohanim, an organization dedicated to reclaiming lands in Jerusalem in an effort to bolster the strength and size of the Jewish population in the historic and contested areas of the city, purchased three 99-year leases—renewable for an additional 99 years—through three front companies in 2004.
The Church, the wealthiest and largest in Israel, argued that former Church finance director Nikolas Papadimos was unauthorized to make the deals and said he had been bribed by Ateret Cohanim. However, the court ruled that the Church failed to provide sufficient evidence that the deal was “a kind of Hollywood film in the center of which are intrigues, bribery, and shady deals.”
The court also refused demands by the front companies for compensation from the Church due to its refusal to let the companies take rightful control over the properties.
The Church leadership were also criticized for changing their story regarding the deal over the course of the 14-year-legal battle.
Court documents showed that the historic Hotel Imperial and the nearby Petra Hotel, located at the entrance to the Jaffa Gate, were leased for $1.25 million and $500,000 respectively by Berisford Investments Limited, Richards Marketing Corporation and Gallow Global Limited.
The Muzamiya House, also located in the Old City, was leased for $55,000.
“The seizure of the historic Jaffa Gate properties by extremist settler organizations is a new catastrophe to [add to] the misfortunes suffered by the Christians in this Holy City,” Palestinian Greek Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna said in a statement.
However, Ateret Cohanim spokesman Daniel Lurie told JNS that the hotels are part of a long Jewish history at Jaffa Gate, and that the Petra Hotel was even built by Jewish developer, Joseph Amzalek, in 1840.