JERUSALEM, Wednesday, March 30, 2022 (WAFA) – The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III decried Israeli settler takeover of a high-profile Christian hotel in Jerusalem as a threat to Christian existence.
“The seizure of the Little Petra Hotel by the radical extremist group Ateret Cohanim is a threat to the continued existence of a Christian Quarter in Jerusalem, and ultimately to peaceful coexistence of the communities of this city,” the Patriarch said in a press statement.
“The Heads of Churches have repeatedly warned of the illegitimate actions of extremists, who have followed a pattern of intimidation, violence, and lawless action to drive Christians and Muslims from the city that we share.”
He pointed that despite official assurances that “there would be no changes to the facts on the ground in the Christian Quarter” while negotiations with the Israeli occupation authorities were underway to“settle the status of these Christian heritage properties that sit on the Christian pilgrim route”, the settler radical group violated the assurances.
Following their takeover of the church property, Theophilos III warned of this “criminal act” and its larger ramifications on the “whole character” of Jerusalem.
“In occupying the Greek Orthodox Church’s property, the Little Petra Hotel, Ateret Cohanim has committed criminal acts of break-in and trespass. They act as if they are above the law, with no fear of consequences.”
“This issue is not about the individual properties, but about the whole character of Jerusalem, including the Christian Quarter. The Little Petra Hotel stands on the pilgrim route for the millions of Christians who visit Jerusalem each year. It is our heritage, and speaks of our very existence in this place.”
He further warned that the settler group was “hijacking” Jerusalem using coercive and violent means, which will undermine stability.
“Israeli radical extremist groups like Ateret Cohanim are already targeting and hijacking our beloved old city of Jerusalem and imposing their illegitimate and dangerous agenda on all sides. We refuse this and we say: this will lead to instability and tension at the time when all are trying to de-escalate and build trust, to build towards justice and peace. Acts of coercion and violence cannot lead to peace.”
He demanded that “this criminal group immediately cease their trespass and get out of our heritage property” and that “they halt their criminal activities on the Christian pilgrim route and in our beloved Old City.”
The Greek Orthodox hierarch made this statement as heads of Jerusalem churches, diplomatic corps from than a dozen countries and other officials joined him and the entire Greek Orthodox brotherhood in rallying against the settler takeover of the Little Petra Hotel. Among the host of officials was Secretary-General of the Islamic-Christian Committee in Support of Jerusalem and the Holy Sites, Hatem Abdel-Qader.
On Sunday evening, members of the Ateret Cohanim radical settler group broke into the hotel, located near Jaffa Gate in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, as well as into a local money-changing shop belonging to the Patriarchate and rented by a Palestinian Jerusalemite at the hotel’s entrance. There, with the aid of local police, they unceremoniously evicted the family who rents and operates the hotel, without presenting any “eviction” documents, noting that the tenant status of the property is still in the midst of legal negotiations.
Palestinians have long maintained that the settler takeover of the strategically-located hotel along with the forced “evictions” of Palestinian families from the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan is politically-motivated and comes as part of Israel’s efforts to ethnically cleanse Jerusalemite Palestinians.
Since the occupation of Jerusalem by Israel in June 1967, Israeli settlers colonial organizations, including Elad and Ateret Cohanim, have claimed ownership of Palestinian property in Jerusalem. Backed by the Israeli state, judiciary and security services, these organizations have been working on wresting control of Palestinian property and convert it into colonial outposts as part of the efforts to ensure a Jewish majority in the city, as well as on managing archaeological sites in Silwan and overseeing their excavation. This scheme involves building new colonial tourist sites, such as the “City of David”, to bolster their propaganda.