Greek Orthodox Church sold land near iconic Jaffa clock tower — report

Revelation follows recent reports of Patriarchate sales of land in Jerusalem, Caesarea to unknown offshore companies

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

The iconic clock tower of Jaffa, November 21, 2011. (Liron Almog/FLASH90)
The iconic clock tower of Jaffa, November 21, 2011. (Liron Almog/FLASH90)

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate has sold prime real estate around the famous clock tower in Jaffa to private investors, the Calcalist business newspaper reported Tuesday.

The revelation follows a flurry of recent reports about the church’s murky land sales in Jerusalem and within Caesarea’s national archaeological park.

Jaffa’s clock tower, built in 1903 and one of seven dating back to Ottoman rule in Israel, stands at the entrance to old Jaffa, much of which has undergone renovation and gentrification in recent years and is today popular with tourists and Israelis alike.

According to the Calcalist report, the clock tower deal began in 1998 when the church sold a 99-year lease to a company named “Clock Quarter” for $1.5 million, along with a pledge that the company would give the church 35 percent of what it built on the land.

A receiver was appointed for Clock Quarter in 2003 and in 2008 the receiver sold the rights to the lease to another company, Caesarea Investments, for NIS 30 million (then worth around $9 million). That lease runs out in 81 years.

In 2013, the church reportedly sold the land that Caesarea Investments was leasing to a Caribbean-registered company called Bona Trading for NIS 5.2 million (then worth around $1.5 million).

In December, Caesarea Investments claimed in court that it should have had first option to purchase the land and said the deal with Bona Trading should be canceled.

Several of these complex land deals have come to light in recent days, including the historic Cesearea antiquities.

The Roman Amphitheater in Caesarea. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
The Roman Amphitheater in Caesarea. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

On Sunday, Channel 2 News revealed that the church had sold more than 700 dunams (172 acres) of land in Caesarea, which includes large chunks of a national park featuring a Roman amphitheater and other antiquities, to Saint Ventures, which is registered on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent.

That deal, signed in 2015, for $1 million (around NIS 3.8 million), was for land that the church has leased to the state until 2108.

Earlier this month, some 1,500 owners of properties in Jerusalem’s wealthiest neighborhoods — including Rehavia and Talbieh — discovered that the church had sold the land on which their homes sit, and for which their leases run out in 30 years, to private real estate companies.

The Greek Orthodox Church is the second-biggest owner of land in Israel after the Israel Lands Authority.

Since Israel’s independence in 1948, it has tended to lease land to state bodies such as the Jewish National Fund and the Nature and Parks Authority. In recent years, however, it has begun to sell the land to private investors for reasons that are unclear.

The sales, by the upper echelons of the church, which are populated by Greek nationals, are infuriating sectors of the Palestinian public and, in some cases, have pitted Palestinians active within the Palestinian Authority against Palestinians outside of it.

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