Russia expresses ‘deep concern’ over decision on Jerusalem church land

Russia said Wednesday it was “deeply concerned” after Israel’s top court ruled earlier this month that a group of Jewish settlers’ purchase of East Jerusalem property from the Church Greek Orthodox was legal.

The Ateret Cohanim organization, which promotes Jewish residency in East Jerusalem, bought three church buildings in a controversial deal struck in secret in 2004. The church later submitted a petition against Ateret Cohanim, claiming the properties had been acquired illegally and without his permission, but the High Court ruled in favor of the group.

“We are deeply concerned about the situation regarding the Christian presence in Jerusalem,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement.

“Such a decision is, predictably, detrimental to interfaith peace and raises legitimate concerns about the position of the Christian community in the Holy Land,” she added.

Ties between Moscow and Jerusalem have been particularly strained in recent months since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Israel has tried to walk a fine line between Moscow and Kyiv, but has grown steadily more critical of Russia as evidence of Russian atrocities emerged and in light of growing anti-Semitic rhetoric from Russian leaders.

In early May, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed that “Hitler also had Jewish blood” and that “some of the worst anti-Semites are Jews”. The Russian Foreign Ministry doubled down on its remarks days later, saying Jews were cooperating with the Nazis and that Israel supported the “neo-Nazi regime” in Ukraine.

People walk past the Alexander Nevsky Church in Jerusalem’s Old City on January 20, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In April, Russia asked Israel to hand over ownership of the disputed Alexander Nevsky Church in Jerusalem after the transfer – approved by the previous Israeli government – ​​was halted.

The Greek Orthodox Church is the largest and wealthiest church in the Holy Land, with huge real estate holdings dating back hundreds of years. He is regularly accused of selling or renting properties to Israel in predominantly Palestinian areas.

Israel captured mostly East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later extended its sovereignty over it, in a move never before recognized by the international community. He now considers the entirety of Jerusalem as his capital, citing the Jewish historical and biblical connection there.

Palestinians see East Jerusalem, including the Old City, as the capital of their future state, and view the growing Israeli presence as an existential threat.

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