More than 170 acres of Israeli land -- including the area that features the Roman amphitheater and hippodrome -- were secretly sold by the Greek Orthodox Church to a mysterious buyer -- prompting the Israeli government to call an emergency meeting to examine the transaction.
The land in Caesarea was sold in the last month, The Times of Israel reported. Much of the land has been designated as a historic national park and was under lease to the Jewish National Fund.
The church acquired the land in the early 19th century for agriculture and leased large chunks of it to the JNF for 99 years after Israel‘s independence in the 1950s.
The JNF -- in addition to government departments such as the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the Israel Lands Authority and the Justice Ministry -- were shocked by the sale. The Justice Ministry called for a meeting to discuss future land sales by the church, which is the second largest land owner in Israel, following the Israel Lands Authority.
According to the Times, deals such as the most recent one require “the intervention of the relevant bodies.”
The Parks Authority said it would "act to ensure the protection of the ancient assets of the land.” Caesarea was built by King Herod and served as the commercial capital of ancient Judaea 2000 years ago. New archaeological discoveries are still being made in the ancient city.
The amphitheater, which was located on the recently sold land, is a popular venue for Israeli and international musicians and performers. The land was sold to a company called Saint Ventures Limited, which is registered in the Caribbean, a region known for tax havens.
Recently, the church also sold the land of 1,500 property owners in an affluent Jerusalem neighborhood.