Israeli settlers seize land owned by Greek Orthodox church in Jerusalem

Jerusalem Greek Orthodox Church

Land owned by the Greek Orthodox church in East Jerusalem was illegally seized by Israeli settlers and police on Tuesday.

According to the Middle East Eye, local residents and witnesses told Israel media that dozens of settlers in the early morning stormed the 5,000 sqm plot of land in the Silwan neighbourhood, south of the Old City.

The report said that the settlers then fenced it off and installed surveillance cameras with the protection of the police. Silwan residents rushed to the scene to stop the land confiscation but were assaulted by security forces.

Three young Palestinians were arrested, according to local media.

"They beat everyone - men, women and children,” witness Mohammed Sumerian told Wadi Hilweh Information Center.

"They arrived early in the morning while people were still asleep and they took the land."

The land is owned by the Greek Orthodox Monastery in Silwan, which is part of the city's Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, according to Wadi Hilweh Information Center, which monitors Israeli violations in the area.

The Sumerian family have been farming and guarding the land for 70 years under a leasing agreement with the owner, the centre said.

Silwan, home to more than 60,000 Palestinians and strategically located south of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Western Wall, has been the target of Israeli settler expansion for years, according to the Middle East Eye.

Hundreds of families in Silwan are facing the threat of expulsion, either through lawsuits by powerful settler groups or through administrative eviction orders by the Jerusalem municipality, which is seeking to build tourist parks themed around biblical stories and figures.

It is recalled that in March, Israeli police and settlers took control of parts of the historic Petra hotel, which has been the subject of a years-long legal challenge between the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and settler group Ateret Cohanim.

Statement by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem:

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem condemned the storming of its land today, Tuesday, December 27, by an Israeli radical group in Wadi Hilweh in Silwan, south of the Old City of Jerusalem.

This radical group has no right or judicial backing in their favour to allow them to enter or occupy the land. The Patriarchate also condemns the fact that the raid took place with the protection of armed Israeli police and border guards.

The Patriarchate affirms that this piece of land, known as ‘the red land’, is five dunums in size (around 1.2 acres) and has been leased to the Sumrin family by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem since the beginning of the last century.

The Sumrin family is still cultivating it to this day, and this intrusion is a clear encroachment on the Patriarchate’s properties in Jerusalem.

This incident represents a direct reaction of the radical Israeli groups to the Patriarchate’s criticism of their expansionist practices that are being deliberately targeted against the Christian churches in Jerusalem, as His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III, Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem, made it clear in his speech during the Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Jaffa Gate on Friday, December 16th.

The Patriarchate of Jerusalem clarifies that an attempt was made to attack this land previously in 2008 when the municipality tried to use it.

The Patriarchte went to court, fighting a judicial proceeding against the municipality, only to be surprised that an Israeli radical organisation possessed documents linking this plot of land to the suspected forgery deal in 2004, which included the properties of Jaffa Gate.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem stresses its commitment to all its rights, properties, and endowments, and that it will spare no effort to protect and defend its rights, and that it will not retreat from defending the Orthodox rights, which the Church and its people have adopted unanimously since His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III assumed his position as Patriarch of Jerusalem in 2005.

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