Jerusalem Christians Unite Behind Armenian Church Over Land Deal

Nov 21 2023

Jerusalem Christians have united in response to a disputed land deal that poses a threat to the longstanding Armenian presence in the Old City. The heads of various Christian Churches issued a joint appeal, expressing concern that the deal, involving the lease of approximately twenty-five percent of the Armenian district for a luxury hotel, could jeopardize the centuries-old Armenian community in the area.

The agreement was signed by the leader of the Armenian Church in Jerusalem in July 2021, Reuters reports. However, it came as a surprise to members of the community, who only became aware of it when surveyors began work this year. The head of the church informed his congregation that he was deceived and started legal proceedings to nullify the contract. The priest who brokered the accord on his behalf was reportedly defrocked by the Church Synod in May and has since departed from Jerusalem.

Despite legal challenges, construction activities, including the tearing up of a car park on the contested land, commenced last week. When protesters intervened, armed Israeli Jewish settlers reportedly attempted to disperse the demonstration unsuccessfully. Christian leaders, including those from the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, warned that such provocations could undermine the Christian presence in the Holy Land.

The Armenian community alleges that the investor behind the land lease is Australian-Israeli businessman Danny Rubinstein, the owner of Xana Capital Group, a company registered in the United Arab Emirates.

The Armenians, with a historic presence dating back to the fourth century, fear the project would not only consume their car park but also threaten their community hall, Patriarch’s Garden, seminary, and five family homes. The Armenian Quarter, centered around the Cathedral of Saint James, which dates back to 420 AD, constitutes one-sixth of walled Jerusalem and accommodates a thousand people.

In speaking to Reuters, Israeli lawyer-activist Daniel Seidemann said he believes the project aims to expand the Jewish Quarter into half of the Old City as part of a broader plan to surround the area with settlement projects.

As recently reported, the 1,600-year-old Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrios in the Gaza Strip, which provided shelter to displaced Palestinians, was hit by Israeli aircraft. The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem reported the incident, and Palestinian health officials confirmed sixteen casualties.

The Israeli military said its fighter jets struck a command and control center involved in the missile launch. The military acknowledged damage to the church and expressed awareness of casualties. There were about fifty people, mostly women and children, at the church, where refuge was being sought during the conflict and strike.

Witnesses believe the target was close to a place of worship where many Gazans had likewise sought refuge. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem condemned the Israeli airstrikes, calling the attack on churches providing shelter to displaced citizens a war crime.