Hundreds of Palestinians rallied on Saturday in occupied East Jerusalem against the selling of church property to Jewish settlers.
Protesters demanded the removal of Patriarch Theophilos III over his involvement in selling church land and called for an end to Greek dominance over their church.
They held up signs reading: “We demand the freedom of the Orthodox Church from Theophilos and from corruption” and “Church land belongs to the church and its congregants – not to Theophilos and his gang.”
Demonstrators also chanted: “Theophilos, you collaborator. Our land is not for sale” and “We want national unity, to free the Patriarchate.”
“The people are demanding unity, transparency, and not to Arabise the church, because the church is already Arab Palestinian,” Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List in Israel’s parliament, said in a statement at the protest.
“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,” Odeh added.
“There is no excuse for the selling [of] any piece of land. This land is for our people. They succeed by dividing us, or bribing us. I ask you all to sit together to form unity and to pinpoint our demands and to foster unity to succeed in this just cause.”
The rally comes amid fears in the Palestinian Christian community that Israel is attempting to “weaken the Christian presence” in the country.
The Greek Orthodox Church is the second-largest owner of land in the country. The controversial deal between the church and Ateret Cohanim was made in 2004 and came to light a year later.
Although the deal was initiated by Theophilos III’s predecessor, Irenaios, who was deposed from his position for his actions, activists and residents believe Theophilos III was responsible for concluding the deal with the settler organisation.