Palestinians demand removal of Orthodox patriarch over sale of church property to Jews

Hundreds of Palestinians gathered for a protest in East Jerusalem on Sept. 9 to demand the removal of Greek Orthodox Church Patriarch Theophilos III over his alleged part in the sale of church property to Jewish settlers.

(REUTERS / Jason Reed)U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd R) meets Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III (3rd L) during a tour of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem March 22, 2013.

Several days ago, Palestinians staged a rally denouncing Patriarch Theophilos III's alleged participation in the sale of church land to Jews. They held up signs which bore messages that demanded the removal of the religious leader from the Orthodox Church, as they said they wanted unity and transparency, Al Jazeera detailed.

"The people are demanding unity, transparency, and not to Arabise the church, because the church is already Arab Palestinian," said Aymen Odeh, who heads the Joint List in Israel's parliament. "In the 21st century, we are here are to ensure that this a national cause. We are here to say there are those who aim to transform the conflict from a national one to a religious one. This is a conflict between illegal occupation and between the people of Jerusalem - Christians and Muslims."

The rally was staged amid fears among Palestinians that Israel is trying to "weaken the Christian presence" in Israel. Religious leaders in Jerusalem recently issued a joint statement condemning a recent court ruling approving the sale of three controversial church properties to an Israeli Jewish settler organization.

Ateret Cohanim, the prospective buyer of the properties in question, reportedly wants to expand Jewish presence in occupied East Jerusalem. The settler group now has ownership of the land for 99 years.

Patriarch Theophilos III, on the other hand, spoke during a press conference in Jordan last month and said the Greek Orthodox Church plans to appeal against the court decision on the property sale. He promised that the church will do everything it can to overturn the "unjust ruling," Arutz Sheva reported.

Moreover, Patriarch Theophilos III emphasized the importance of the real estate issue in East Jerusalem and asked world leaders to intervene in the situation.