Old City in Jerusalem
Old City in JerusalemiStock

Azzam al-Khatib, director of the Islamic Waqf properties in Jerusalem, is calling on Christians not to sell Church land to Jews, calling it "treason."

In an interview with the Hamas newspaper Al-Risala, Khatib said that many sources in the Christian community had told of various real estate transactions that had taken place with Jews.

He said that the issue was being examined in conjunction with the Palestinian Authority and the Jordanian leadership in an attempt to find a solution to the problem.

Israeli archbishop Atallah Hanna, known for his support of the Palestinian Arabs, called for preventing the transfer of ownership of the assets of the Greek Orthodox Church, noting that the attempt by Israelis to purchase lands previously owned by the Greek Orthodox Church hurts the local Arab population.

Earlier, Christian cleric Manuel Muselim, a member of the Christian Islamic Council for the Support of Holy Sites and former head of the Latin Church in Gaza, warned that churches in Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem "serve the Israeli occupation plan."

He added that there is evidence that in the past these churches sold land in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Hevron, stressing that any sale of Church land to the "Israeli occupation" was a "grave betrayal" of the "Palestinian people" in general and Palestinian Arab Christians in particular.

Under Palestinian Authority (PA) law, selling of land to Jews is criminal andpunishable by death. However, such sentences must be approved by the PA chairman, and current chairman Mahmoud Abbas has preferred to authorize life sentences for such offenses, possibly wary of an international backlash.

Last week, Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) shut down a Palestinian Authority-sponsored conference in eastern Jerusalem that was to have dealt with the topic of Muslim and Christian-owned property sales to Jews.

"The PA activity against Jewish life in eastern Jerusalem is part of a program to damage our sovereignty in all of Jerusalem, and even to terrorize Arabs who would sell real estate to Jews in the city. I will continue to act forcefully to prevent any political infringement by the Palestinian Arabs in Jerusalem,” said Erdan.

The Greek Orthodox Church owns large amounts of property in Jerusalem and has often been criticized by both Jews and Arabs due to its involvement in real estate deals. Currently, a major controversy is raging, as it was recently revealed that the church sold land in the Rehaviah and Talbiyeh neighborhoods to a mystery buyer.

Over 1,000 apartments already sit on the land, causing confusion among residents whose home-owner security is suddenly in doubt, and MKs Rachel Azariah (Kulanu) and Yossi Yonah (Zionist Union) have been working in the Knesset to guard the residents’ property rights.

In August, the Jerusalem District Court ruled that there was nothing improper in a real estate deal transferring ownership of two Old City hotels from the Greek Orthodox Church to Ateret Cohanim, an organization which works to strengthen the Jewish presence in Jerusalem's Old City and in other historically Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem.

In the decision, Judge Gila Kanfi-Steinitz ruled that there was no proof that the deals between the church and subsidiaries of Ateret Cohanim were a result of bribery or of fraud. She also ordered the church to pay Ateret Cohanim's legal fees, totaling NIS 30,000 ($8,420).

The hotels are prominently located next to the Jaffa Gate in the Old City, and the decision to sell them to Ateret Cohanim caused a firestorm among the city's Arab residents. The Greek Orthodox Church sued, claiming that the deals were illegally signed by an employee without authorization, setting off years of litigation.