Source: International Middle East Media Center

The Greek Orthodox and Catholic churches in Jerusalem released a statement Saturday that the Israeli authorities have threatened to force the demolition of 500 buildings owned by the churches in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Church buildings under renovation in Jerusalem (photo by Herbert Bishko)
Church buildings under renovation in Jerusalem (photo by Herbert Bishko)

Israeli forces have recently stepped up demolitions in the Old City of Jerusalem, in accordance with the Municipality’s published E1 plan for the city, in which officials articulate a detailed plan to push out the Palestinian Christian and Muslim populations, while simultaneously increasing construction of Jewish-only homes and housing developments.

The church buildings in question are mainly homes owned by the church and leased to Palestinian Christian priests, nuns and families. Israeli authorities claim that renovations were done on these buildings without permits, but failed to acknowledge the lack of a permitting process for the Church to obtain the necessary permits.

In addition, many of the supposed ‘renovations’ listed on the demolition orders are questionable, such as one that lists a 50-square meter apartment as an ‘addition’ to the home of Bassam Ayyash, but in fact Ayyash’s entire home is the 50-square meter apartment. Ayyash has been trying to get Israeli officials to investigate this alleged violation, but they have thus far refused.

In another example mentioned in the church statement, renter Sami Wakileh tried to go through the process to obtain a permit for a small renovation on his home. He was told by the Israeli judge, “It is a waste of your time. Do not dream of receiving any permit…”.

He tried to obtain the permit and failed, but, given the historic antiquity of his church-owned home, he had to do renovations in order to keep the home from falling down. He ended up spending over $100,000 on renovations. Now, due to the Israeli demolition orders, the whole house will end up demolished by an Israeli bulldozer.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of church-owned buildings were seized by Israeli forces during the 1948 takeover of Palestine for the creation of the state of Israel, and again during the 1967 War of aggression by Israel. These buildings were taken over by the Jewish National Fund, which owns more than 90% of the land inside what is now Israel, and rented to Jews who immigrated to Israel.

Now, Israeli forces have again declared their intent for a large-scale demolition of church-owned buildings in Jerusalem.

One church official blamed the Israeli authorities for making it increasingly difficult for the churches to obtain building permits. Both the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the Catholic Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, church administrative bodies for the two main Christian branches, have received the demolition orders totalling 500 buildings.

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