By Mel Frykberg
(Left: Patriarch of the Church, Theophilos)
"RAMALLAH, Jan 8 (IPS) - Israel’s bid to keep occupied East Jerusalem under its sovereignty and prevent its incorporation into a future Palestinian state has been boosted over the years with the acquiescence of the Greek Orthodox Church.
The church’s sale of politically sensitive land in East Jerusalem under dubious circumstances and amidst charges of political blackmail have caused outrage amongst Greek Orthodox Palestinians and threatened to split the church.....
Palestinians have been expelled from their homes to make way for Jewish settlers whose settlement there has been politically and economically encouraged by Israel. Apart from social restrictions Palestinians are regularly denied building permits and those who build anyway, due to chronic housing shortages, face destruction of their homes by Jerusalem municipality.
The crisis within the Palestinian Greek Orthodox Church came to a head on Wednesday, the Orthodox Christmas Eve, when the patriarch of the church, Theophilos, had to be escorted into Bethlehem’s Manger Square by Palestinian riot police to attend celebrations.
Several hundred Palestinian protestors from the Council of Arab Orthodox Institutions and Organisations in Palestine, representing 19 groups, booed his arrival and waved placards that read: "The Holy Land is not for Sale or Lease"......
Elias Isaid, leader of the Greek Orthodox Club of Beit Sahour, stated: "Today's demonstration is the start of our action against the patriarch.’’ He warned that the patriarch could be declared persona non-grata in Bethlehem if legitimate grievances were not taken into consideration.
The Greek Orthodox Church is the biggest private owner of land in Jerusalem and owns most of the land in the West Bank on which the Christian religious sites, including the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem where Christians believe Jesus was born, are built.
Much of this land was donated to it by Orthodox Christian Palestinians in the late 1800s. Over the last few decades the church has increased land sales to the Israeli authorities or leased land to them for a period of 999 years.
This has enabled Israel to build a number of large Israeli settlements in the East Jerusalem area, creating a corridor with other West Bank settlements and effectively cutting off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.
But the church’s land sales have come against a background of corruption allegations. Nicholas Papadimas, a previous church treasurer in Jerusalem, was behind some of the sales before he fled the country and was charged in Greece with stealing church funds in a separate case......"