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Ownership of Land in Biblical Town of Jericho Returned to Russia

At a recent ceremony in Moscow, Russia, the ownership deed for a piece of land situated in the town of Jericho, Palestine, which had once belonged to Russian tsars, was handed over to the head of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, thereby handing the land back to Russia. Hassan Saleh, the mayor of Jericho handed over the document to Sergey Stepashin during a ceremony which both parties see as having far-reaching significance.

Often referred to as the “City of Palms”, Jericho lies on the west side of the Jordan River. The town has great Biblical significance, with the large sycamore tree in the town believed to be the tree mentioned in the Bible as the one that Zacchaeus the tax collector climbed to get a better view of Jesus as he passed by (Luke 19:1-10). There is strong archaeological evidence that points to Jericho being one of the oldest continuously-inhabited towns in the world. Remains uncovered by archaeologists suggest that more than 20 settlements have come and gone in the area, dating right back to 9000 BC.

More than two hundred years ago, the Russian tsar ruling at the time bought the piece of land and had a nunnery built on it, which became a popular pilgrimage site. But following the Russian Revolution of 1917, the country turned first to socialism and then communism, leaving no place for religious tolerance. The nunnery was abandoned and the buildings left to deteriorate. All that remains today are four graves marked with the names of Russian women, and some old ruins.

In addition to having historical and Biblical significance, the land is located in the best commercial area of Jericho. Chief Palestinian autonomy negotiator, Saeb Erekat, is hopeful that the 12,000 square meter piece of land will be developed to assist in the rejuvenation of tourism in the area, and there are indications that Russian authorities are thinking along the same lines. Whether the development is undertaken as a Russian project or in collaboration with Palestinian business people remains to be seen, but both parties are confident that this handing over of the land’s ownership deed to Russia will lead to the strengthening of a beneficial relationship between the two countries.


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