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Russian Orthodox strife brings change in Hebron


White Church loses monastery to Red Church

July 9, 1997
Web posted at: 9:48 p.m. EDT (0148 GMT)

From Correspondent Jerrold Kessel

HEBRON, West Bank (CNN) -- In a city where violent religious disputes are commonplace, the only Christian property has become the site of one of the more unusual skirmishes.

The Monastery of Abraham's Oak in Hebron, a 130-year-old Russian church has become the centerpiece in a struggle between two factions of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The monastery was recently taken from the control of the so-called White Russian Church, which traces its lineage back to the Czars, to monks and nuns loyal to Moscow's so-called Red Patriarchy, which has been the official Russian church since the Bolshevik revolution 80 years ago.

"Absolutely properly, the Palestinian Authority has transferred this land to its legal owners, the Russian church and the Russian people," said Red Russian monk Alexander.

vxtreme CNN's Jerrold Kessel reports from Hebron, West Bank.

The monastery is in an area controlled by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian authority, and the monks and nuns who were forced to leave insist that they were badly manhandled.

"We were told you have to leave because this man has to come here," says Mother Superior Juliana. "This man was from the red church."

"They put me on the floor and they dragged me like a sack of potatoes," a nun said.

A monk says that another monk was knocked to the ground, handcuffed and beaten.

Jibril Rijoub, a Palestinian Security Chief, denies force was used.

"This is not true," he said. "It did not happen. It will never happen in the future."

Russian Church Patriarch Alexy II attended a meeting recently with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat asking for help in recovering church properties like the Monastery of Abraham's Oak.


"As the responsible authority in Hebron and all parts of the West Bank," Rijoub said, "we have the right to do our best to help them."

Russian Orthodox property in Israel is in the hands of the Red Church, while the Czarist White church has properties in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

But with the installation of clerics in Hebron loyal to the Red church, it appears that a coup has taken place and the White Church has lost some valuable ground -- and, in this case, a building.

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