Palestinian court cancels transfer of site with Oak of Mamre in Hebron to Russian Ecclesiastical Mission

Hebron, West Bank, June 17, 2020

The Holy Forefathers of Christ Russian Orthodox dependency in Hebron. Photo: The Holy Forefathers of Christ Russian Orthodox dependency in Hebron. Photo:     

The Supreme Court of Palestine has canceled a decree from President Mahmoud Abbas that granted land to the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, citing ancient Islamic laws, reports the Maan news agency.

The site in question includes the famous Oak of Mamre where the Patriarch Abraham entertained the Lord in the form of three angels in Genesis 18, today located at the Russian compound in honor of the Holy Forefathers of Christ in Hebron, with a monastery in honor of the Holy Trinity.

President Abbas decided to transfer the land to the Russian Mission in January 2017.

Ahmed Saeed Bayoud Al-Tamimi, a member of the Executive Committee of the PLO and Chairman of the Council of the Palestine Polytechnic University Graduates Union expressed his gratitude to the Supreme Court, stating that ever since Abbas had transferred the land to the Russian Church, he wanted to reverse the decision and give the land to the university to construct a teaching hospital “that serves the people of the province and the homeland.”

His family contends that it is the rightful owner of the land.

The Russian Church, however, counters that the land has in fact belonged to it since the 19th century when it was purchased by Archimandrite Anthony (Kapustin), reports RIA-Novosti.

According to Palestinian media, about 85% of the city has belonged to the al-Tamimi family since the 7th century. Under Islamic law, it is considered religious land and can never be transferred to anyone else’s ownership, though it can be given for use. All those who live on or have real estate on the land are required to pay a special tax to the family.

The family contends that the Ottoman Empire transferred land in Hebron for the Russian Church to use on lease terms, but the Church stopped paying the tax after 1960, which means the land returns to the owner according to the law on donations.

Thus, President Abbas did not have the right to transfer the land to the Russian Church in 2017, al-Tamimi contends, though the Church says Archimandrite Anthony was actually able to officially re-register the land to the Church’s ownership.

After the 1917 revolution in Russia, some of the land was managed by ROCOR, and was later given to the Patriarchate by Yasser Arafat in 1997, though the transfer was not properly legalized until Abbas’ decision in 2017. There have been a number of legal battles over the site of the Holy Trinity Monastery over the years, handing down various decisions.

Hebron is believed to be the site of the Tombs of the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as those of Adam and Eve and is considered sacred by Christians, Jews, and Muslims. The city is divided into several sections, within the Russian section at the epicenter of the confrontation.

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