JERUSALEM (Jul. 26)
Greece has lodged a diplomatic protest with Israel over the destruction last week by the Jerusalem municipality of two buildings on the Mount of Olives belonging to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.
The protest, made public over the weekend by the foreign ministry in Athens, called on the Israeli authorities to compensate the Patriarchate and to allow it to rebuild the two structures.
Greek officials and clerics claim that one of the two demolished buildings had been a church, although it had not yet been completed or consecrated. They cited the presence of icons in the building as proof that it was being used for religious purposes.
City officials said they had acted only after long months of futile attempts to get the Greek Orthodox Church to cease construction, which had been done in contravention of city planning ordinances.
They cited several letters of warning delivered to the Patriarchate. They added that the patriarch, Diodorus I, had actually pledged to stop the work but had not abided by his commitment.
City officials then sent notice to the Greek Patriarchate informing it of their intention to act. They also sent copies of the letter to all the other churches in the city as well as to all the consuls-general stationed here.
Two days after the Patriarchate was notified, city bulldozers appeared at the site. Under police protection, they proceeded to demolish both buildings. Greek officials offered no resistance when demolition began.
Observers have registered surprise and dismay at the incident, given the long history of cordial relations between the Greek Patriarchate and the Israeli authorities.
The Greek Orthodox Church is one of the oldest denominations in the city. It is also the largest landowner in Jerusalem.