2020-03-17 11:12:00

Moscow's stance on Alexander Metochion in Jerusalem deals with reinstatement of Russia's property rights - Russian Embassy in Israel

Moscow, March 17, Interfax - Moscow believes the situation surrounding the Alexander Metochion deals not with the transfer of property, but the reinstatement of Russia's property rights, which were entrenched as early as during the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv told Interfax.

"It is not about the transfer of the ownership of the Alexander Metochion to Russia, but the reinstatement of the property rights of the 'splendid Russian Empire' to this facility, as stated in a document issued by the Ottoman Empire," the Russian embassy said, responding to an Interfax request.

When asked to comment on the appeal of the historical Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society (Munich) against the decision to transfer the property to the Russian organization of the same name, the embassy said that "commenting on the process lies outside the embassy's competence."

"The issue you've mentioned is being considered by the relevant Israeli authorities in accordance with the established procedures," it said.

On March 2, historical Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society (Munich) director Nikolay Worontsow-Hoffmann told Interfax that the organization had filed an appeal with the Israeli authorities contesting a decision to transfer the property to Russia's organization that carries the same name.

The 60-day deadline [for filing the appeal] expired yesterday, but we lodged our protest, which consists of several hundred pages, on time," Worontsow-Hoffmann said.

The Alexander Metochion is situated in the Old Town of Jerusalem, in close proximity to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is an archeological and architectural compound standing on land bought by Russian Emperor Alexander III in 1859.

The compound was built by the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society in 1896.

The controversy surrounding its ownership began after the 1917 revolution. In 1918, the head of the society, Prince Alexey Shirinsky-Shikhmatov, fled Russia, as most of the society's members did at the time. Shirinsky-Shikhmatov arrived in Berlin and the society resumed its operation there.

At present, two different organization of the same name - Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society - exist separately in Russia and in Germany. In 1992, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation approved a resolution on "the restoration of the historical name of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society." The Justice Ministry then recognized it as a successor to the Soviet Palestine Society and to the historical society.

The German society is led by Worontsow-Hoffmann, the Russian one by Sergey Stepashin, a former head of the Accounts Chamber. Currently, the metochion is occupied by Vorontsov-Hofmann's organization registered in Munich. Stepashin's organization is contesting the ownership of the metochion. According to Worontsow-Hoffmann, before they left Palestine in 1948, the British authorities confirmed the society's right to all related property on the Holy Land.

On January 23, Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a working visit to Israel. Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the mother of Israeli woman Naama Issachar, who was convicted for drug smuggling in Russia and whose release the Israeli authorities were seeking. On January 29, Issachar was pardoned by Putin and Netanyahu took her to Israel on the next day.

Israeli media linked Issachar's pardon to the possible transfer of the ownership of the Alexander Metochion in Jerusalem to the Russian side.