WCC-As a six-year-old boy, Abu El Walid Dajani began helping his father manage the New Imperial Hotel near Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem. The historic property is owned by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, and leased before 1967 to the Dajani family to run as a hotel. Now 77, Dajani has become the manager. But the threat of eviction is derailing a way of life his family has known for generations.
“I come to the New Imperial Hotel every day. This is where my story is,” he said. “This is where my life is.”
But, due to a recent court order—building off of 17 years of previous legal battles before that—life has taken a turn toward an oppressive uncertainty. On 8 June, the Israeli Supreme Court issued a decision rejecting the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem’s latest attempts to annul the ruling issued against it in July 2017, through which the radical Israeli organisation Ateret Cohanim succeeded in expropriating the properties of the patriarchate at Jaffa Gate. One of those properties is the New Imperial Hotel.
The decision came despite a legal battle waged by the patriarchate for the past 17 years—a battle to reverse a manipulated deal to lease the property to Ateret Cohanim, a deal that usually should have passed through the Holy Synod to be ratified. In this case it did not.
The latest decision of the Israeli Supreme Court, Dajani explained, is laid out in an 800-page document.
But the human face of these pages is drawn in Dajani’s worried eyes, and how he finds it difficult to sleep at night. Part of a longstanding Muslim family in Jerusalem, Dajani finds himself defending the hotel and the other Christian-owned properties not only as a way to preserve his way of life but to preserve religious acceptance in a sacred land. The longstanding tenant has become a guardian because of his family’s long-term lease and partnership with the Patriarchate.
Time for action
By now he’s done with expressions of sympathy. He wants action. “I want President Biden to come here, meet with the heads of churches for five or ten minutes, and I want him to assure them that Christianity will remain in Jaffa Gate and remain in the Holy Land,” he said. “This is really an immediate need.”
In 2005, the historic New Imperial Hotel and the nearby Petra Hotel, located at the entrance to Jaffa Gate, a well-known and central part of the Christian Quarter in the Old city of Jerusalem, were allegedly leased for 99 years against $1.25 million and $500,000 respectively by three offshore companies.
Dajani calls that original purchase “a conspiracy done though embezzlement” that released a cascade of injustice that grows ever-heavier. “We need the full support of the Christian world to take action and bring justice,” he said.
Where is the Christian world?
In fact, sometimes he wonders if his Christian brothers and sisters really know what’s going on for people like him: people trying to go to work, live in their homes, or exist on land that, for many, has been in their families for generations.
“I am asking: where is the Christian world on this issue?” said Dajani. “I know people have the right to buy property—but not to sign documents through embezzling and blackmailing.”
He wants the world to understand how these kinds of court decisions impact normal people. As the heads of churches in Jerusalem cry for justice, so does he.
“This is unbelievable,” he said. “Why don’t they leave us alone? This is a great insult to all the intelligent people in the world. Christians in Jerusalem should have the support not only of the Christian world but also the support of the Muslim world.”
At night, Dajani thinks about the 800-page court order. “I don’t need 800 pages,” he said. “I only need an answer to the question: Does the Dajani family have a right to work here—or not? Do I have a right to run my everyday business without this nightmare? I am a human being, not a court document.”
Dajani wants to manage a hotel in peace. “I hope there will be enough support from the Christian churches to put pressure on the Israeli government to protect these properties in Jaffa Gate—and any other property,” he said. “I have four children, and the eldest is 50 years old—for two years we’ve been almost in bankruptcy.”
At this point, Dajani wants more than a wish for peace—he wants a strategy and a strong leader to carry it out. “Who is this leader? Who will take this on? Enough is enough.”