Who is behind the shady Jaffa Gate deal?
- From: JHForest@...
Haaretz, Israel, 30.4.05
Who is behind the shady Jaffa Gate deal?
By Danny Rubinstein
Who is the mysterious Jewish party behind the purchase of the Greek
Orthodox properties inside the Old City's Jaffa Gate? Could it be the
Israeli government itself?
It was first reported more than a month ago that the Greek Orthodox
patriarch of Jerusalem, Irineos I, had sold two buildings to an unknown
Jewish investor - the Palestinian-run Imperial and Petra hotels, a row of
shops and some houses in the Jaffa Gate plaza in Jerusalem.
The report triggered off stormy reactions. Palestinian Prime Minister
Ahmed Qureia and other Palestinian Authority officials came out with
sharp denunciations of the deal, as did Jordanian leaders. The Greek
government also demanded that the matter be examined. In Israel, in
contrast, the affair did not stir much interest.
Irineos denied the report, but not always unequivocally. I didn't sell, I
didn't authorize the sale, I was misled, documents were forged. Two
weeks ago he published a notice in the media in English, Greek, Arabic
and Hebrew, declaring that any power of attorney that he may have
given, at any time, is null and void.
In view of the patriarch's denials, the buyers were expected to step
forward and say, Yes, we bought the property, we have proof, and
present the documents. But the mystery buyers kept mum.
The most vociferous protest came from the Arab Orthodox community.
Many of its members called for the patriarch's dismissal, deportation
from Israel and replacement by an Arab patriarch rather than a Greek
The community has been demanding the Arabization of Jerusalem's
Greek Orthodox patriarchy for decades. The patriarch and the 17
members of the Holy Synod of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in
Jerusalem, all of whom are natives of Greece, manage vast holdings of
lands and buildings all over the country. The Arab Orthodox
community says the property belonged to their ancestors. The Greek
priests did not bring the houses and lands with them on the boat to the
Holy Land, they say. The Arabs complain that the Greek priests, some
of whom are corrupt, have been selling large chunks of the property to
Jews, not allowing Arabs any control of the assets.
Fickle and unreliable
Jordan, Greece and the PA have each appointed an inquiry committee
to examine the property sale at the Jaffa Gate. The committees started
work immediately and summoned Irineos for questioning. Their swift
action was apparently prompted not by the sale itself, the like of which
is frequently carried out by the patriarchy throughout Israel, but the
properties' sensitive location.
The Jaffa Gate Plaza is a site of historic, symbolic and strategic
importance. The Tower of David, overlooking the city, stands in the
plaza, and the roads leading to the Christian, Armenian and Jewish
quarters branch out from it. Kaiser Wilhelm II, for whom the Ottoman
rulers destroyed part of the wall to create the New Gate, marched into
the city from the plaza in 1898 and the armies of General Allenby, the
city's British conqueror, held their parade there at the end of World
War I. Most visitors to the Old City enter via the Jaffa Gate. In a sense,
whoever owns the property inside the Jaffa Gate holds the key to the
entire Old City.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchy has already sold - or rather, leased on a
long-term basis - properties to Jews in Jerusalem - in the Rehavia
neighborhood, the Valley of the Cross, San Simon in Katamon and
Liberty Bell Garden - and in Jaffa - on Andromeda Hill and in the Flea
Market. But these deals never sparked off demonstrations and protests
like the Jaffa Gate deal has.
The committees' work has brought to light some details of the various
governments' positions on the affair. Irineos, summoned to Amman by
the Jordanian committee, denied having made the deal and promised to
include more Arabs in the properties' management, in accordance with
the patriarchy's constitution and regulations. The Jordanians realized
that appointing an Arab patriarch would be a significant diplomatic
move that could not be made at present, and for the last few days they
have been trying to calm things down.
The Greek Foreign Ministry sent a senior delegation to Jerusalem to
question the patriarch and speak with the patriarchy's senior priests.
According to reliable sources, the delegation concluded that Irineos
should be replaced by another Greek priest because he is weak,
isolated, frightened and feels persecuted, and therefore finds it difficult
The Greeks want a strong patriarch in Jerusalem, to prevent his being
replaced by an Arab. The Arabs - Palestinians, Jordanians and others -
on the other hand, prefer a weaker man at the head of the patriarchy if
an Arab patriarch cannot be appointed.
Irineos was called for a clarification meeting with Qureia, after which
he promised to cooperate with the Palestinian inquiry committee. The
committee is headed by Dr. Emil Jarjoui, a Christian PLO activist and a
member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. The committee consists
of leaders of Christian communities from the Bethlehem area and three
The Palestinian committee met with Irineos and asked him for
documents and information regarding the Jaffa Gate affair. They asked
for a power of attorney, to be used to obtain information on changes in
the properties' ownership from Israeli institutions such as the Lands
Administration, Tax Authority, Jerusalem Municipality and others.
Irineos refused. The committee found him fickle, evasive, secretive and
unreliable, according to sources. The other committees formed the
Irineos blamed his former financial manager, Nikos Papadimas, who
fled Israel some four months ago. Irineos said Papadimas had forged
documents and used an authorization he had to sell a shop to make the
Jaffa Gate deal.
Papadimas, who is in hiding in the United States, confirmed to a Greek
journalist that he had signed the Jaffa Gate deal, but said he did so at
the patriarch's orders. Another senior patriarchy official told the
Jordanian committee that Irineos had asked him to sign the deal papers
in the patriarchy's name, and when he refused, took the papers to
A long term investment
The leaks from the various committees indicate that the first steps
toward selling the Jaffa Gate properties had been made. But to whom?
It has been suggested that the investor or investors might be a settlers'
group buying up properties in Jerusalem's Arab quarters, or perhaps a
According to Papadimas and other sources, the buyer was to pay $135
million to the patriarchy to lease the properties for 99 years. This is a
vast sum, not economically justified, since the properties are occupied.
Both hotels and all the shops are inhabited by protected tenants who
pay very low rent and cannot be evicted, unless they are paid large
sums of money. It is hard to believe that a supporter of the settlers
would spend so much money, especially if he could not profit from the
deal in the foreseeable future.
Settlers have always demonstrated an impressive ability to raise funds
for their cause from government and other public bodies. It is possible
therefore that the buyer is none other than the Israeli government,
directly or indirectly, as was the case for another patriarchy property -
Saint John's Hospice, adjacent to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The money for that deal came from the Housing Ministry at the
instruction of then-housing minister David Levy, acting under the guise
of a foreign company.
The Israeli government has a clear interest in taking over properties in
the Jaffa Gate area before negotiations on Jerusalem's future.
Ownership of the Jaffa Gate area and the Armenian Quarter would
enable Israel to create a contiguous Jewish presence from the city's
west to the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall. For Israel, this would
be a long term strategic investment.
It is possible that an agent acting for Israel's government is lying low
for fear that exposure would lead to harsh international criticism. Many
countries would see the purchase of properties at Jaffa Gate, located
outside the pre-1967 borders, as a provocative step in the light of
efforts to revive the peace process.
It is not clear why Irineos would get involved in such a deal, arousing
the wrath of the Arab world and others. It could be because of acute
financial distress. The patriarchy's debt totals tens of millions of
dollars. Many church properties have liens against them and the
patriarch is having difficulty paying wages and operating church
Meanwhile, Irineos is subject to threats, pressure and extortion by his
opponents within the patriarchy, various governments and agents of
powerful economic bodies that would not hesitate to employ violence.
Irineos seems to be maneuvering among them all, but many believe that
the Jaffa Gate affair will finish him off as the patriarch of Jerusalem.
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