Palestinians protest Greek patriarch ahead of Orthodox Christmas in Bethlehem
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Palestinians protest Greek patriarch ahead of Orthodox Christmas in Bethlehem

Demonstrators shout ‘traitor’ at Patriarch Theophilos III in anger over Church’s sale of East Jerusalem land to Jewish groups

Jerusalem's Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, center, arrives at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, to celebrate the Christmas mass with his community, on January 6, 2019. (Musa Al SHAER/AFP)
Jerusalem's Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, center, arrives at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, to celebrate the Christmas mass with his community, on January 6, 2019. (Musa Al SHAER/AFP)

Dozens of Palestinians on Sunday protested the arrival of the Greek Orthodox patriarch of the Holy Land at an Orthodox Christmas celebration in Bethlehem.

The protesters shouted “traitor” at Patriarch Theophilos III as he made his way under heavy guard Sunday toward the Church of the Nativity, revered by Christians as the traditional site of Jesus’s birthplace.

Palestinians have been demanding his resignation for having allegedly sold church land to Israelis.

Protesters are enraged over the Greek Orthodox church allegedly allowing controversial sales of its property in mainly East Jerusalem to groups aiding Jewish residency there.

Property transactions with Jewish buyers anger Palestinians, who see East Jerusalem, which contains the Old City, as the capital of their future state.

There were similar protests last January when Theophilos arrived in Bethlehem for the Orthodox Christmas celebrations, which are marked on the seventh of the month, according to the Gregorian, rather than Julian, calendar.

The Greek Orthodox church is one of the largest real estate owners in the Holy Land. It is dominated by Greek clergy while the flock is overwhelmingly Palestinian.

Grappling with tens of millions of dollars of debt, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem has managed to balance its books by selling and leasing plots to a number of overseas companies, all headed by Jewish investors, senior figures in the Greek Orthodox Church have told The Times of Israel.

The land sale deals have also caused consternation among many Israelis, who have raised concerns of the fate of the homeowners on large tracts of land in west Jerusalem sold by the church.

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