Protests broke out in Bethlehem as Palestinians– Muslim and Christian alike, as Patriarch Theophilos III arrived in Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas services on January 6, 2018.
The head of the Greek Orthodox church has been accused of selling off large parts of land to unknown businessmen in multi-million dollar deals.
The protests have united Palestinians of both Muslim and Orthodox Christian background against the largely-ethnic Greek-born leadership of the Church.
Angry protesters chanted and threw eggs at the convoy of the Patriarch Theophilos III, who was visiting the Church of the Nativity for services marking the Orthodox Christmas Eve.
Many Orthodox Christians, including those in Jerusalem, celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on January 7.
Theophilos has been at the epicentre of public anger after allegations emerged that he was pandering to Israeli interests by selling off land to hardline Jewish settlers in prime locations in Jerusalem’s Old City, areas that were sacred to the Christian community, as well as the city’s Muslim Palestinians.
A protest calling for the removal of Theophilos III was also held in September following the publication of reports claiming that he had colluded with a hard-line Jewish settler organization.
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoom, reporting from Bethlehem, described Saturday’s scenes as “unprecedented” and “dramatic”.
“There have been protests before, but not at this level. There were eggs being hurled at the convoy, people sitting in the middle of streets. It really underscores how angry people are about these reports,” he said in a report.
The land sales have triggered a broader campaign demanding an end to the church’s dominance by Greek-born clergy over a largely Palestinian Christian faithful.
“Our demands are clear and simple,” Aghlab Khoury, a member of the Orthodox Central Council, told Al Jazeera at the Bethlehem protest.
“We want the patriarch to resign; we want reform to the patriarchate; assign a legal committee to evaluate the situation in the patriarchate; and appraise the existing property.”
Theophilos has denied the allegations that anything criminal has occurred and has defended his actions, claiming that he must protect the Jerusalem Patriarchate by selling key real estate. The matter has been front page news in Israel.
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