Arts & Entertainment

East Jerusalem’s Judaization threatens survival of Christian heritage

By Sara Gomez Armas

Jerusalem, Jul 4 (EFE).- Abu Walid Dajani, a 78-year-old Palestinian Christian, will “fight until the last breath” to prevent the historic hotel his family has been running in the Old City of East Jerusalem since 1949 from being taken away by a right-wing Israeli Jewish group.

In 2004, former Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Irenaeus I, sold the lease of the New Imperial Hotel to a firm based in the US Virgin Islands and linked to Ateret Cohanim, which seeks to see the “revival of the Jewish life to the heart of Jerusalem,” according to the settler group director, Daniel Luria.

Dajani calls the sale “a problem for Christianity.”

“How are we going to keep Christianity on Jaffa Gate? … the problem will be to preserve the Christian heritage, the Muslim heritage and the Palestinian heritage on Jaffa Gate,” he wonders.

The hotel manager says one of his life’s worst days was March 18, 2005, when Maariv daily reported the $1.25 million sale of the hotel’s 98-year lease on its front page.

Ateret Cohanim also bought the lease to the nearby Petra hotel for $500,000 and the Al-Muzahmiya House, another property in the Christian neighborhood, for $50,000.

Jewish families have already taken over the ground floor’s 18 rooms in Petra Hotel in March.

Dajani says in an interview with Efe at the 44-room hotel that was built to accommodate German emperor Wilhelm during his visit to the Holy Land in 1898 and that he prays every day for everything to be resolved.

The support of the whole world and all the churches is needed to pressure the Israeli government to keep these properties in the hands of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, he adds.

Dajani goes on to ask US president Joe Biden to meet with Christian leaders even “for only 10 minutes,” during his upcoming visit to Jerusalem on July 13-14.

Dajani, as well as his brother, took over the hotel in 1963 from his father and was planning to hand over the business to his sons and extend the contract for three more generations.

Some 11 other families live off the hotel, located in the Old City’s Christian quarter overlooking Jaffa Gate and the David Citadel.

As he shows the 800-page complaint calling for his eviction, approved by the Israeli Supreme Court in early June, Dajani says he is going to fight until the last breath against the eviction of his family.

Theophilos III, the current Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem, tried to challenge the validity of the sale and have it revoked but the Israeli court ruled in favor of Ateret Cohanim.

If this building ends up in the hands of Jewish extremists, it will pave the way for similar steps in the Holy Land, Dajani says.

It will cause serious problems, probably ethnic violence, he continues.

Ateret Cohanim, meanwhile, perceives it differently.

Luria stresses that anyone has the legitimate right to purchase property throughout Jerusalem.

“When a Christian buys from a Jew, when a Christian buys from an Arab, or when a Muslim buys from a Jew in Ramat Eshkol (neighborhood), they are not evicting the Jew from Ramat Eshkol. It’s real estate, he is buying a property in a neighborhood that he wants to leave,” he says.

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