The Petra and Imperial Hotels in the Old City of Jerusalem were legally purchased by Jews in 2005. A legal challenge was brought by the Greek Orthodox Church. On June 3, the Supreme Court of Israel rejected an appeal from Patriarch Theophilos III, head of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, against three real estate companies as well as former Patriarch Irenaios who had been dismissed in disgrace in 2005 after the sale was disclosed. The petition claimed that Irenaios sold several properties on church-owned land to Jews without the proper authority to do so. It is important to realize that it is not unusual for the Greek Orthodox Church to sell or lease lands in Israel to Jews. The Knesset, which is Israel’s Parliament, stands on leased land from the Greek Orthodox Church.
One of the three properties in dispute was the Petra Hotel, which Irenaios leased out for 99 years with an option for another 99 years to Ateret Cohanim.
After a long and drawn-out court battle, the present Patriarch Theophilos III lost and has gone on a public relations junket to try to win in the court of public opinion. He was in Washington last week speaking to senators and congressmen, spreading vicious lies and distortions, calling it a land grab by Jews. The Supreme Court of Israel is the last word on the subject, and most know that the Supreme Court is generally left-leaning. To give a ruling in favor to Ateret Cohanim means that the arguments and proceedings had to be airtight and rock-solid for the Supreme Court to rule in favor of the sale as final and binding.
The ruling was not only regarding the Petra Hotel but also its neighbor, the 40-Room Imperial Hotel.
The Petra Hotel is immediately on the left when one enters the Old City from the Jaffa Gate. It functions as a hostel, with stores on the ground level. The Imperial Hotel is right next to it as one walks toward the shuk.
The Petra Hotel was built in the 1840s in front of the Tower of David. The builder was a wealthy Jewish merchant from Gibraltar named Yosef Amzaleg who was also involved in the purchase of Petach Tikva, Rishon L’Tzion, and Neve Tzedek near Tel Aviv. From 1903 to 1931 the hotel was leased by Yerachmiel Amdursky.
Among its guests were Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe; Herbert Samuel, the first high commissioner for Palestine; and David Ben Gurion’s son, Amos, who celebrated his bar mitzvah there.
The Imperial Hotel has hosted famous guests such as Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1898, and General Edmund Allenby who, after winning the battle for Jerusalem in 1917, addressed crowds from the Imperial’s balcony.
Patriarch Theophilos III should cease and desist. The Supreme Court of Israel has to be respected by all parties. President Trump, whose family helped Jews purchase properties in Sheepshead Bay and Forest Hills upon which synagogues were built that stand to this day, should tell the Patriarch to stop spreading “fake news” about the Jews of Jerusalem.
Joseph M. Frager is a physician and lifelong activist.