Amid Ukraine invasion, Jerusalem court nixes transfer of Old City property to Russia

Judge rules only the government is able to decide on ownership of Alexander’s Courtyard, due to matter’s political and religious considerations

People walk outside the Alexander Nevsky Church in Jerusalem's Old City, on January 20, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People walk outside the Alexander Nevsky Church in Jerusalem's Old City, on January 20, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Jerusalem District Court on Thursday annulled a decision giving the Russian government control of the prominent Alexander’s Courtyard church compound in the capital city, the Globes newspaper reported.

The verdict was given following a petition by the Orthodox Palestine Society of the Holy Land, which owned the property until last year.

The complex is located near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City.

In 1859, Czar Alexander II purchased the land on which Alexander’s Court — also known as the Alexander Nevsky Church — was built. Until the Russian Revolution of 1917, the area was under the control of the Russian Imperial government.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved giving Alexander’s Courtyard to Russia in 2020. The move was seen as a goodwill gesture following Russia’s release of Naama Issachar, an Israeli woman who was imprisoned after a small quantity of marijuana was found in her backpack during a layover in Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kremlin in Moscow on January 30, 2020. (Maxim Shemtov/Pool/AFP)

After the Russian government was registered as the rightful owner of the church, the Land Registry Commissioner responded to a string of appeals against the move, explaining that the Russian Federation had been recognized by international bodies and by the State of Israel as a “continuing state” of the Russian Empire.

In his ruling on the appeal Thursday, Judge Mordechai Kaduri ruled that since Netanyahu had designated Alexander’s Courtyard as a “holy site,” the only body able to decide on the matter is the Israeli government, given various religious and political considerations.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett set up a panel on the issue last July, but it has yet to convene.

The court decision comes amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Israel, which enjoys close ties with both countries, has largely refrained from condemning Moscow, apparently due to concerns Moscow could limit the IDF’s ability to act against Iranian-linked targets in Syria, where Russia maintains a military presence.

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