Christians in the Old City of Jerusalem celebrated the Easter holidays this year in a tense climate. At issue: a hotel illegally occupied since mid-Lent by Jewish settlers seeking to eradicate any Christian presence in the Holy City. With the tacit support of the authorities.
For several years now, the three main Christian denominations – Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, and Greek Orthodox – have been confronted with the systematic enterprise of colonization of their neighborhoods by Jewish nationalist factions.
This is how the Ateret Cohanim group - literally “Crown of the Priests” - is trying to “Judaize” East Jerusalem - an area illegally annexed by Israel according to the UN - by acquiring real estate through front companies and settling Jewish settlers there in order to eradicate the Christian identity of the Holy City.
The conflict took a new turn around mid-Lent, on March 27, 2022, when settlers resumed, breaking into part of the Petra Hotel.
The ownership of this building, located near the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem, has been disputed for 20 years in Israeli courts.
Sold by the former Greek-Orthodox patriarch, Irenaeus I, in a controversial agreement in 2004, the Petra Hotel and its neighbor the Imperial Hotel have since been claimed by Ateret Cohanim. For its part, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate has repeatedly accused the opposing party of fraud.
The actions of Ateret Cohanim this week validate this claim. By breaking into Little Petra, they act as if they were above the law, without fear of consequences, denounced Theophilos III during the press conference before pressing his case: “It is not just a threat to two hotels, but a threat to the entire Christian presence in the Old City of Jerusalem.”
An anger shared by Catholics who have formed a common front in face of the danger that this new spoliation represents for the future of Christians in the holy city: “we support you and we are on your side,” assured Fr. Francisco Patton, the Custos of the Holy Land, to the leader of the Greek Orthodox.
On the Israeli side, we promised to “do our best to deal with this issue and to put pressure on the radical groups, so that they stop occupying the hotel.”
Pious wishes were not followed by effects: “it seems that the State does not have the power, or the will, to put pressure on the occupants,” lamented Theophilos III, shortly before Easter.
The complacency of the Jewish state against which Fr. Nikodemus Schnabel rebels. For the Benedictine who presides over the destiny of Mount Sion Abbey, which adjoins the old city, “it is very worrying that Israel has turned a blind eye.”
A monk who knows what he is talking about, since his monastery has been the target of numerous acts of vandalism attributed to the settlers, acts most often dismissed. “A city of Jerusalem deprived of any Christian presence, with only Jews and Muslims? That's so boring! “ warns Fr. Schabel.