Greek Orthodox Arabs call for patriarch’s ouster over land deals

Dozens of Christian Arabs protested against the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of the Holy Land on Thursday, demanding the resignation of Patriarch Theophilus III for selling church land to Israelis.

Some 50 demonstrators rallied outside the Church of St. George in Lod, in central Israel, where Theophilus had arrived to pray.

Some waved banners calling him “not trustworthy.” Others scuffled with the patriarch’s supporters.

The church is one of the largest real estate owners in the Holy Land. It is dominated by Greek clergy while the flock is overwhelmingly Palestinian.

The protest was one of several held recently in Israel and the West Bank that have called for the ouster of the patriarch and the replacement of Greek clergy with Palestinian ones.

Activists are furious over a list of real estate sales conducted by the patriarchate with private companies registered in offshore companies whose investors are unknown.

Demonstrator Ghassan Mounayer accused the church of giving land to “Jewish businessmen instead of investing it in the well-being of the Christian community.”

Particularly sensitive is a deal made under Theophilus’ since-deposed predecessor to lease prominent properties in the Old City — part of East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the future capital of a Palestinian state — to front companies for an organization dedicated to settling Jews in non-Jewish areas.

That deal has been upheld by two Israeli courts and is currently being challenged as fraudulent by the patriarch in the Supreme Court.

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