13 members of the Greek Orthodox church in Palestine will boycott the Patriarch over accusations of leasing land to an Israeli development company.With the Greek Orthodox Christmas approaching on January 7th, thirteen leading members of the church in Palestine have decided to boycott the reception of the Patriarch, Theophilos III. They will not receive him at the Mar Elias Monastery, situated between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, nor at Checkpoint 300, the entrance to occupied Bethlehem.

Reasons given for this decision include the accusations made in April of last year, that 71 dunums, approximately 18 acres, of land around Mar Elias have been leased to an Israeli construction company for development, and the failure of his promise to reverse similar actions of his predecessor, Irenaios I. Said actions led to Irenaios I being voted out of his position as head of the church.

Unanimously voted to the position in 2005, Theophilos III had promised to undo much of the harm caused by Irenaios I, who in 1999 signed a deal with a British development company that lead to construction linking the illegal settlements of Har Homa and Gilo, outside of Jerusalem, in the occupied West Bank. It is estimated that the total volume of land leased by Irenaios I was approximately 700 dunums.

The church has a long history of provoking public outcry amongst the Palestinian population, approximately 2% of whom are Christian. Private Palestinian land was given to church in trust before the 1967 war, which saw Israel occupy the West Bank and annex East Jerusalem.

Subsequently, the church sold some of this land to Israel including that which the Knesset and the Israeli Prime Minister’s residence are built.