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Israeli court cancels Russian government ownership of a Jerusalem church

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will have to make a decision on the property rights’ dispute amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Alexander Nevsky Church in Jerusalem Old City (Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a Jerusalem District Court canceled the Russian government’s ownership rights of Alexander’s Courtyard Church in Jerusalem. 

The compound, located near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City, was promised to Russian President Vladimir Putin by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2019 in return for the release of an Israeli citizen, Naama Issachar, from a Moscow prison. 

Issachar was accused of smuggling 10 grams of marijuana and was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison. Russia requested that Israel would transfer the ownership of the church since 2017 and used Issachar’s release as a bargaining chip. 

Prior to Netanyahu’s gesture to Russia, the church was owned by the Orthodox Palestine Society of the Holy Land (OPS) which appealed against the new registration of the property. The OPS claimed that it had been the sole owner of the compound for more than 130 years and that neither the State of Israel nor Russia had the right to confiscate the property. 

On Thursday, Judge Mordechai Kaduri ruled that only the government is eligible to make a decision regarding the property, due to political and religious considerations and given Netanyahu’s designation of the compound as a “holy site.” 

The decision in the ownership dispute will now be in the hands of Prime Minister Bennett’s government. Bennett has twice spoken with Putin by phone and on Saturday flew to Moscow to meet the leader face to face since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.   

Bennett had already set up a panel to discuss the matter in July of last year, but it has yet to convene. 

The Alexander Court was part of a land purchased by Czar Alexander II in 1859. The Alexander Nevsky Church and several other structures were built upon it and were under the control of the Russian Imperial government. The church has been contested since the Russian Revolution of 1917 and was seized by the Orthodox Society of the Holy Land since the 2000’s – a scholarly organization which claims to be the successor of Russia's pre-revolutionary Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society.

Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.

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