Orthodox Arab leaders demand patriarch's resignation

Jack Khoury

Haaretz

Adar2 28, 5765

Atala Hanna, who until recently served as the spokesman of the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, on Thursday called the church's leader in Israel, Patriarch Irineos I, an "Israeli agent who must be fired and stand trial."

Hanna, the most senior of the priests who attended a Nazareth conference of the Arab Orthodox community, is known for his opposition to Irineos and called on all clergymen to disobey the Greek Orthodox Patriarchy's leadership.

The conference was organized by a body of public Orthodox councils who tend to the community's secular needs. Delegates were almost unanimous in demanding the patriarch's resignation. The calls came on the heels of reports claiming that church officials leased church-owned property in East Jerusalem to Jews.

A week ago, the patriarch's bookkeeper said he signed a contract leasing church-owned property in Jerusalem's Old City. The bookkeeper said the transaction was ordered by Irineos I, and other reports said property was not only leased, but sold.

The conference was also attended by leaders of the Druze and Muslim communities, including MKs, council heads, clergymen and representatives of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee.

Delegates stressed that church property was entrusted to Irineos and that he has no right to sell or lease them without the consent of community members. The conference secretary Dr. Khalil Andreos said that Patriarch Irineos did not provide clear answers regarding his responsibility over the Jerusalem land deals, and is therefore asked to resign. Andreos added that the issue was not an internal church matter, stating that the Arab character of Jerusalem was a national Palestinian matter that is important to representatives of all Arabs regardless of religious denomination.

"We don't want Irineos to go and take the assets with him. He must stand trial like any traitor would," Hanna said.

Hanna said that Irineos issued a statement Thursday demanding that church members accept his authority, "but we say that whoever leads the church must respect it and its rules before asking for our obedience."

The committee's closing statement did not only seek the patriarch's resignation. It also demanded the cancellation of all real estate deals signed by Irineos, as well as any power of attorney he may have granted to "suspicious" elements.

The statement also demanded administering Jordanian law on all church property in Jerusalem, in a bid to prevent its sale or lease and seeks to establish a joint religious committee which will oversee all Arab properties in Israel. The conference also called for more senior roles for Arabs within the church, as all senior positions in the church today are held by Greeks.

Nazareth Mayor Ramez Jerayssi called on the governments of Jordan and Greece to work together to retrieve all lands sold by the patriarchy, and stressed that the conference did not consider the Greek government or people enemies. Jerayssi added, however, that condemnations of land sales would not suffice and that concrete steps must be taken on the matter.