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Vatican Secures Temporary Injunction Freezing Sale of Convent to JNF Subsidiary

The Vatican has secured a temporary injunction from the District Court here against the Himanuta Corporation, a subsidiary of the Jewish National Fund, freezing the sale of the Notre Dame de Slon convent to Himanuta by the Assumptionists, a Catholic order. The convent, situated in a strategically and economically important location just across from the Old City Wall, had been sold to Himanuta on Oct. 23, for use by the Hebrew University, for $800,000. The negotiations and the contract-signing were conducted secretly in New York out of fear that a premature leak might arouse Vatican protests. The registration of the sale was also done in New York, by an Israeli Land Registry official flown there for that purpose. Beyond the question of the sale, the case carries the much larger question of Israeli-Vatican relations. Israel would probably prefer to avoid a quarrel even if she felt it was justified. The Vatican, represented by Tel Aviv lawyer Abraham Suchovolsky, claims the sale was invalid because the Assumptionists acted without the Vatican’s necessary consent and because the sale registration was done outside of Israel. District Court Judge Yehuda Cohen gave the Vatican until Dec. 25 to submit proof of its contentions, with approval of the sale held in abeyance.

A JNF spokesman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the funds considers that “the transaction was made in perfectly legal form according to the laws of the country.” The property is earmarked by Himanuta for Hebrew University classrooms and dormitories, although there was no clear explanation of why the university did not buy it directly. Himanuta, wholly owned by the JNF, has as its purpose the buying of real estate that may eventually be resold; the JNF cannot, according to its statues, resell land it has bought. The four-acre Notre Dame site is a very valuable property that will undoubtedly rise in value as central Jerusalem urbanization progresses. Mr. Suchovolsky told the JTA that he had been given the case by the apostolic delegate here. Bishop Pio Laghi, the personal representative of the Pope in the Holy Land. Bishop Laght also bears a Vatican power-of-attorney. Fr. Gabriel Slater, head of the convent and the Israel correspondent of the American Catholic News Agency, told the JTA he had sold the convent to Himanuta because its original purpose 70 years ago–to serve as a hostel for pilgrims–had become negligible.

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