A construction site in an Arab neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem, Dec. 18 2012. (Oren Nahshon/Flash90) (Oren Nahshon/Flash90)
arab construction jerusalem

The residential project is considered the largest in eastern Jerusalem and is valued at more than NIS 1 billion, as a joint venture between Massar International and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.

By Baruch Yedid, TPS

Bashar Masri, billionaire entrepreneur and founder of the Palestinian Authority city of Rawabi city near Ramallah, unveiled on Monday the “Lana” $300 million, 400 units housing project to be built in the northern areas of Jerusalem.

Announcing the start of the excavation phase, Masri convened a press conference that was attended by the Mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, Patriarch Theophilos III, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, senior members of the Waqf, and church leaders.

“Jerusalem is our top priority, and investing in it is an important means of economic empowerment for the residents of the city. As long as I am able to do so, I will not hesitate,” declared Masri.

“We started excavation operations and will provide a modern and integrated lifestyle for the residents,” he added.

The Mufti of Jerusalem said that Lana “guarantees us life in Jerusalem. Investment in the Holy City is an important matter.”

The residential project is considered the largest in eastern Jerusalem and is valued at more than NIS 1 billion, as a joint venture between Massar International and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.

The large project has nine buildings, one of which is for commercial use and eight buildings of 3-4 floors with 400 residential apartments. The first 92 apartments will be ready in two and a half years. 50% of the project area is designated for public buildings, including schools, kindergartens and a commercial center.

Al-Masri claims he waited 10 years for permits from Israeli authorities, including the Jerusalem municipality. The building permit for two residential buildings was granted last September and is registered in the name of Condias Isicius, a member of the Greek Church and a resident of Beit Hanina.

Sources knowledgeable of the details raised a series of questions about the issuance of permits, land ownership and the involvement of the church in the huge project.

Christian sources have alleged that “church leaders have become a cartel of land trafficking for Palestinians in exchange for crumbs, and have betrayed the public trust.”

Representatives of Massar International told TPS that this is a joint venture between the large corporation and the Greek Church, but the Christian community says that this is an improper step on the part of the church that gave up 31 dunams of land entrusted to the Christians in exchange for a very small share of 20% of all apartments in the project.

Church sources say that the church leased the land for 99 years to Massar International, which in turn pledged to cover development and construction costs, charging that “this is a scandal because Christians will be entitled to a total of 80 apartments after giving up 31 acres of Christian land which were handed over to the responsibility of the patriarchy at the end of the Ottoman period and became Christian sacred lands that are forbidden for sale.”

The Christian community says that “the patriarch is not allowed to use these lands and certainly not to sell them. The heads of the church who have become a business cartel are acting against the will of the Christian community in Jerusalem and therefore they are evading the issue by using the land lease method for 99 years.”

One of the parties involved says that Massar International “is not allowed to build on the land even though it has been leased to it and it must return it to the owner for use at the end of the period, but everyone is turning a blind eye, including Israel.”

The church explained that “at the end of the Ottoman period and due to the heavy taxes imposed by the Turks on lands in the area, many Christian residents registered the land in the name of the church exempt from taxes and these lands were given the same status as Muslim Waqf lands, which are forbidden for sale to anyone else.”

“These lands have not been returned to their owners and now the church leaders are trading them in exchange for making money and in dubious transactions.”

The prices offered by Massar International, NIS 1 million for a 90-square-meter apartment, and NIS 2 million for a 160-square-meter apartment, are not suitable for the Christian population in the area, but for the wealthy Palestinians who do not find Rawabi attractive and want to live in Lana due to its proximity to Jerusalem,” said a social activist in the Christian community in the city.