Incident in Christian Quarter Stupid, but Reaction Overblown, Says Kollek

Teddy Kollek, Jerusalem’s feisty mayor, used the occasion of an appearance here last week to denounce the recent procurement by 150 Orthodox Jews of a building complex in Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter.

He called both the acquisition of the complex, known as St. John’s Hospice, and the Israeli government’s contribution of $1.8 million in financing for the project “a great stupidity.”

“I blame members of the Cabinet who not only allowed this, but encouraged this,” Kollek said before a room of Jewish and Christian leaders brought together last Thursday under the auspices of the American Jewish Committee to heal interreligious wounds the incident has caused.

“The people that are behind this certainly should have judgment, and they didn’t show it,” he said.

But when asked whether he thought Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was directly involved in the government’s $1.8 million secret financing of the real estate deal, Kollek answered unequivocally, “No.”

While the mayor said the situation is “very serious,” he also believes “to some extent the reaction was overdone.”

He said it was unfortunate that the hospice, located near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, was occupied during the Easter season.

“Passover, the month of Ramadan and Easter — all these holidays passed with exemplary dignity. On the Temple Mount, more than 50,000 Arabs pray every Friday — more than ever in Jordanian times. Yet all this has been overshadowed by this particular incident,” he said.

The conflict that has strained Christian-Jewish relations began April 11, when 150 Orthodox Jews moved into a 72-room building in the Christian Quarter previously owned by the Greek Orthodox Church. They subleased the building from an Armenian, Martyros Matossian, who had leased it for over 20 years from the church.

Kollek said the Greek Orthodox Church had neglected the building complex for many years and had leased it to “a bunch of crooks.” But he also insisted that this in no way justifies the activities that have occurred in the last month.

This was done because a group of people believe they have the right to move in everywhere, and they want to move into every community of the Old City. This is against the basic policy of the government,” he said.

The mayor also pointed out that the situation of Christians in other Middle East countries is far worse than in Israel. When Jerusalem was under Jordanian control, he said, no permission was given for churches to be built, whereas since 1967, over 20 churches have been built.

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