Provocation and violence by Israelis threaten Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem

By Angela Hassassian

In the highly sensitive area of East Jerusalem, which the international community considers to be Palestinian territory held under Israeli occupation, Israeli settlers, backed by Xana Capital, are making renewed attempts to seize a significant portion of land in the Armenian Quarter, historically owned by the Armenian Patriarchate.

The situation has escalated in recent days, with private security and settlers entering the area accompanied by bulldozers.

This new situation follows attempts earlier this month by armed Israeli settlers and attack dogs, which were repelled by the Armenian community. Despite ongoing legal challenges, Xana Capital, owned by Danny Rubenstein, also known as Danny Rothman, is asserting its claim to nearly a fourth of the Armenian Quarter.

It is also taking place at a time when the Israeli government is under international pressure to ease the violence on Palestinians and Gaza. The disputed area known as the “Cows’ Garden,” includes a parking lot, a seminary, and five residential homes.

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The Israeli police have demanded Armenians vacate the area, accusing them of property misappropriation.

The dispute began following Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian signing a property deal several years ago. The details of the agreement are not entirely known. Despite recent attempts from the Armenian Patriarchate to cancel the controversial real estate deal, the developers associated with Xana Capital have initiated demolition work without proper permits, leading to a tense situation in the Armenian Quarter.

The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem faces what it describes as the “greatest existential threat” in its 16-century history.

“Instead of providing a lawful response to the cancellation, the developers attempting to build on the Cows’ Garden have completely disregarded the legal posture of the Patriarchate toward this issue, and instead have elected for provocation, aggression, and other harassing, incendiary tactics including destruction of property, the hiring of heavily armed provocateurs, and other instigation,” reads the Communique from the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate of Jerusalem, issued on November 16.

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Local Armenians, in collaboration with the Armenian Patriarchate, are protesting the illegal construction by forming human shields and barricading access. The Israeli police have arrested three Armenians, including a minor. The situation remains volatile, with settlers aiming to appropriate the “Cows’ Garden.”

“We are receiving support from all of the Christian communities, with many Patriarchs, Bishops, and representatives of those communities visiting the Armenian Patriarchate expressing solidarity. Members of their congregations are also visiting the Cows’ Garden site in a show of support, turning our cause into a unifying force for Christian heritage and presence in Jerusalem,” said Hagop Djernazian, a local activist and resident of the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem.

On November 18, the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem issued a statement regarding the recent events in the Armenian Quarter.

This conflict not only endangers the Armenian Quarter’s cultural heritage but also challenges the UNESCO World Heritage Site status of the Old City. The Armenian Quarter, inhabited since the 4th century, represents a crucial part of global heritage.

“We are worried that these events potentially endanger the Armenian presence in Jerusalem, as they set a precedent for similar engagements. The illegal actions taken by the alleged developer against the Armenian Patriarchate and community are not conducive for the social order that the peaceful and law-abiding Armenian community, which is a member of our Christian family in the Holy Land, longs for,” the statement reads.

This conflict will have severe repercussions for one of the oldest communities in the Holy Land.

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