PA ‘surprised’ at Greek Orthodox Church in Wadi Kelt

Senior representatives participated in recent ceremony marking the reopening of access road to Monastery of St. George.

The Palestinian Authority expressed “surprise” over the participation of senior representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church in the recent ceremony marking the reopening of the access road to the Monastery of St. George in Wadi Kelt, courtesy of the State of Israel. The Tourism Ministry, National Roads Company and Civil Administration for Judea and Samaria on Tuesday held a ceremony marking the end of five months of work to improve accessibility to the fifth-century monastery, undertaken at the behest of Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III to improve pilgrim and tourist access to the site.

In a Wednesday announcement cited by Reuters, PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad “expressed surprise at the participation of a representative of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate,” referring to Archbishop Aristarchos, one of the heads of the Greek Orthodox Church in Israel, who attended the ceremony and praised the Israeli efforts that would now give pilgrims from all over the world better access to the holy site.

The newly-fixed road lies in the West Bank “C” zone, which is under Israel’s security and administrative responsibilities.

A spokesman for the PA told Reuters that “third parties like the Greek Orthodox Church should not take part in such activities, because this will give a deceiving impression about the situation,” in which Israel is free to build in those parts, while the PA is denied the ability to do so.

The Arab Orthodox Central Council in Palestine and Jordan and the Council of Arab Orthodox Organizations in Palestine strongly condemned the cooperation between Greek Orthodox church officials and Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, as reported by Palestinian news agency Ma’an.

“The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem should regret the fact that while Churches around the world call for an effective boycott and divestment from Israeli settlements, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem continues to support the colonization of our land,” a statement by the councils said, calling the event an example of that church’s “arrogant behavior that has harmed the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.”

The Orthodox councils further called on the PA to “take strong action” against that church and “reevaluate its relationship with the Patriarchate, including boycotting entrance of the Greek Patriarch in Bethlehem for Christmas celebrations,” Ma’an reported on Wednesday.

Palestinian Orthodox groups claim that the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem sells land to Israel, including Palestinian plots given to the church in trust before 1967. In 2009, Patriarch Theophilos III was boycotted for the Bethlehem Christmas celebrations on those grounds.