THE PA'S ATTEMPTS TO TAKE OVER CHRISTIAN CHURCHES & COMMUNITIES IN JERUSALEM

Following is an Israeli security report presented recently to the Minister in charge of Arab Affairs and the Minister of Internal Security:

Introduction

The past year has seen attempts by the Palestinian Authority to acquire control over the Christian Churches in Israel, especially in Jerusalem.

The Christian holy places in Jerusalem are run by the Patriarchs and heads of the large churches, such as the Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Latin Patriarchates and the Franciscan Order.

In the struggle for Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority has opened a new front with efforts to take over the Patriarchates and, in particular, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. Through these it can control the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of Mary Magdalene and additional Christian sites.

After taking over Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity, the PA realizes that control over the Christian holy places in Jerusalem can be used as a powerful lever to gain international political influence in the Christian world.

Similarly, the Palestinians are seeking to transform the "Bethlehem 2000" celebrations into a political show of support for the PA (as they have already done to the annual Christmas ceremonies at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem). The PA has used its indirect control over the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as a means of influencing the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Patriarchates, through which it impacts the political positions of the Greek government and the European Union.

Current Situation

a) Several Jerusalem churches and Patriarchates have already "turned Palestinian":
1) The Latin Patriarchate, headed by Patriarch Michel Sabbah and his deputy, Bishop Kemal Batchish;

2) The Anglican Bishopric, headed by Bishop Riah Abu al-Assal (who spearheaded a recent decision at the world gathering of Anglican bishops concerning the division of Jerusalem);

3) The Lutheran Bishopric headed by Bishop Munir Yunan;

4) the Greek Catholic Bishopric of Jerusalem, headed by Archbishop Lutfi Lahaam (a PFLP man).

b) The PA is now attempting to exert control over four key Christian communities:
1) The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate

2) The Armenian Patriarchate

3) The Franciscan Order (which controls Catholic holy sites on behalf of the Vatican)

4) The Greek Catholic Bishopric of the Galilee.

c) Israel faces an immediate battle against the PA's attempts to take over the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem and the Greek Catholic Bishopric in the Galilee.
Following is a description of the current situation regarding the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate:
Background
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate consists of 50 Greek priests and bishops (who hold Greek citizenship). This has been the case for more than 1,500 years. The Patriarchate is headed by a Synod (a Bishops' Council - the "Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre") which consists of 15 members and is headed by the Patriarch Deodoros I.

The PA's efforts to take control over the Patriarchate consist of a three-pronged approach encompassing the public, legal and political spheres:

Public Sphere
The structure of the Orthodox community in Israel consists of church associations which administer the communities' churches, cemeteries, cultural and educational institutions in Nazareth, the villages of the Galilee (Raameh, Kfar Kana, Raineh), Haifa, Acre, Jaffa, Ramle, Lod and other places. A number of these associations recently united to form the "Orthodox Congress" and are currently waging a public and political struggle at the behest of the Palestinian Authority to take over the Patriarchate in Jerusalem. The Congress is headed by Kemal Ferah of Nazareth.

At the instigation of the Palestinian Authority, the Congress is currently working to create a union of Orthodox Palestinian Christians together with Marwan Barghouti of Ramallah (who is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council), and Ramzi Khouri, Arafat's personal secretary. As a means of pressuring the Patriarchate, the Congress has recently organized a number of public events, such as gatherings in Ramallah and Amman. On August 1, 1998, participants at a gathering in Amman called for fighting Israel's efforts to "Judaize" Jerusalem and declared that Jerusalem was and will continue to be the capital of the Palestinian state.

On July 4, 1998, the Congress organized a demonstration in Jerusalem. 500 members of the Orthodox community from the Galilee, Jaffa and Ramle took part. The person who submitted the request for a permit to hold the demonstration was none other than Jawad Boulos, who serves as legal counsel to the Orient House. Congress leader Kemal Ferah stated that "this demonstration is just the beginning "

The Greek priests who run the Patriarchate have been subjected to threats. There are reports of plans by the Congress to break in and seize documents and deeds of ownership.

Legal Sphere
The "Orthodox Congress" recently submitted a list of demands to the Israeli Attorney-General. The bottom line was a demand to establish a public council alongside the Patriarchate which would oversee its properties and assets.

In the village of Samia, the "Orthodox Association" approached the Land Registry Office with false claims concerning the community's property. The association falsely presented itself as if it were the representative of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and succeeded in registering land in its name which in fact belongs to the Patriarchate.

Political Sphere
The Palestinian Authority's involvement in the establishment of a united front of Orthodox believers living in Israel, Judea, Samaria and Gaza and in Jordan sets a dangerous precedent of cooperation for the sake of obtaining a political objective.

The PA is attempting to hide its involvement for fear of a reaction by the Greek government and other European states. The PA also fears the reaction of other Orthodox Patriarchs throughout the world (such as the Patriarch of Russia and the Patriarch of Istanbul, the Archbishops of Cyprus, the United States, Australia, etc.) The PA denies all involvement, but it sends its agents out "on a private basis" to strengthen front organizations such as the "Orthodox Congress" in Israel and the "Orthodox Association" in Jordan.

Summary and Conclusions

1) Palestinian attempts to take over the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem must be stopped. Much of the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Rehavia and Abu Tor, the Valley of the Cross and large parcels of land in Nazareth belong to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.

2) Political and security backing should be given to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate to counter the threats against the lives of the Greek bishops and priests who run the Patriarchate.

3) The Palestinian legal steps against the Patriarchate must be stopped. Putting a halt to their efforts in the village of Samia (see above) are equivalent to the Dutch boy inserting his finger in to the dike to halt the flood - for if the Palestinians succeed in taking over the Patriarchate's properties, it will begin in Samia and end in Rehavia in the heart of Jerusalem.


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