Armed Israeli settlers attempt to seize Armenian Patriarchate property in Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter

Nov 7 2023
Armed Israeli settlers attempt to seize Armenian Patriarchate property in Jerusalem's Armenian Quarter
Ibrahim Husseini

Armed Israeli settlers stormed the Armenian Quarter in occupied East Jerusalem on Sunday, 5 November, in an effort to lay a hand on a piece of land following the signing of a murky deal between the Jerusalem Arminian Patriarchate and Xana Capital, owned by Jewish Australian investor Danny Rubenstein. 

Rubenstein carries an Israeli passport and also goes by the name Danny Rothman. 

News of the deal first emerged in 2021. It was contested by a group of Armenian priests who alleged it was done illegally without ratification by the Synod and the General Assembly.

Hagop Djernazian, a resident of the Armenian community and a leading activist against the land deal in question, told The New Arab, "We are fighting for our existence, for the status quo of Jerusalem, we have to maintain a Christian Armenian presence in Jerusalem". 

The deal reportedly pertains to 11.5 dunams in the Armenian Quarter, which amounts to 25 per cent of the total size of the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City. It includes a vast tract of land currently used as a parking lot, a seminary, and five residential homes. 

Last month, the Armenian Patriarchate informed Xana Capital it was withdrawing from the deal. The deal's cancellation came following pressure from the local Armenian community and Areminians worldwide. 

In May of this year, the Petra news agency reported that the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Jordan suspended Nourhan Manougian from his role as the Patriarch of the Armenian Church in Jerusalem because he "mishandl[ed] culturally and historically significant Christian properties in Jerusalem's Armenian Quarter". 

Under a long-established tradition that has been upheld for centuries, senior church appointments in the Holy Land usually necessitate the approval of the authorities governing the land. Presently, these authorities are Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.

In a statement released on 6 November, the Armenian Patriarchate said that the party with whom it had signed the contract responded to the cancellation of the deal with "demolition of walls, demolition of the parking lot and scrapping of asphalt pavements". 

According to Hagop Djernazian, following the deal cancellation, about 15 armed settlers broke into the Armenian Quarter and proceeded to knock parts of a stone wall. They also partially destroyed asphalt ground. 

Soon after, several Armenian community members assembled and prevented the settlers from carrying out further damage to the property. 

Activists Hagop Djernazian (L) and Setrag Balian (R) are challenging a real estate deal in a sensitive area in occupied East Jerusalem between the Armenian Patriarch and an Israeli settler.
[Ibrahim Husseini/TNA]

Videos and images show the settlers armed with rifles accompanied by attack dogs rowing with the local community members.

"Danny hired the settlers from the Jewish Quarter", Djernazian told The New Arab

After several hours of tense arguments, the settlers dispersed.

Djernazian told TNA that community members had organised to guard the property. 

Djernazian estimates that around 1,000 people of Armenian descent reside in occupied East Jerusalem. 

The Arminian Jerusalem Patriarchate isn't the only Christian Church to become embroiled in questionable real estate deals with Israeli settlers in occupied East Jerusalem. 

The New Imperial Hotel, located in Jaffa Gate and long owned by the Greek Orthodox Church, was sold in 2004 to a right-wing Israeli group known as Ateret Cohanim. The Greek Orthodox Church claims the purchase of the properties was fraudulent and has challenged the deal's legality. However, the courts have ruled in favour of the settlers. 

The New Imperial Hotel is a minute's walk from the property leased to Rubnestein in the Armenian Quarter. Both properties are within a minute's walk of the Holy Sepulchre, the Christian Quarter.