Church leaders condemn measures that aim to 'weaken Christian presence' in Jerusalem

Senior church leaders in Jerusalem have called on world leaders to help them preserve the status quo of Jerusalem as they released a joint statement on Sept. 4 that condemned a district court ruling and a proposed bill which they saw as attempts to weaken Christian presence in the Holy City.

(REUTERS / Ronen Zvulun)Ultra-Orthodox Jews walk towards the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem's Old City during a sandstorm September 8, 2015.

Last month, the Jerusalem District Court ruled that the buying of three major properties near the Old City's Jaffa Gate were legal and that ownership had been transferred from the Greek-Orthodox church to a rightwing NGO. Aside from that, 39 MKs signed a bill proposed by Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria which aimed to nationalize church properties in west Jerusalem, The Jerusalem Post detailed.

"We now find ourselves united once again in condemning recent further encroachment on the status quo," the church leaders said in the joint statement in light of the two controversial incidents. "In such matters as this, the Heads of the Churches are resolute and united in our opposition to any action by any authority or group that undermines those laws, agreements, and regulations that have ordered our life for centuries."

In the 1950s, churches leased the said properties to the Jewish National Fund and have sold portions of the land to private entrepreneurs. Since the deal will affect residents when the lease periods end, the bill proposed that the properties be nationalized and all affected parties be compensated.

Greek Patriarch Theophilos III, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem Nourhan Manougian, and Ethiopian Orthodox Archbishop Aba Embakob were among those who signed the joint statement.

Khalil Tafakji, the head of the Maps Department at Orient House, spoke to Gulf News last month and explained the ramifications of the purchase of the properties in question. He said the one who owns the land will have control over the "movement of Muslim worshippers."

In addition, Tafakji pointed out the lease of the properties to Jewish groups as the cause of the problem, as this allowed the sale of certain land. Aside from the properties in Jaffa, there were others in Haifa and Qisaryah that were also involved in the issue.