23 January 2014, 15:10
First Russian school to open in Bethlehem
Moscow, January 23, Interfax - The first Russian school in Bethlehem is due to open on September 1, 2014.
The issue was discussed at a meeting between Palestinian National Administration leader Mahmoud Abbas and the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society Chairman Sergey Stepashin at the Society's office building in central Moscow on Thursday.
"Mahmoud Abbas has asked for more schools," Stepashin told reporters after the meeting.
Before 1917 there were around 100 Russian schools in Bethlehem, he recalled. Russian schools could also open in Ramallah and Gaza Strip in the future, Stepashin said.
"A miser pays twice. We must not lose the Middle East," he said.
Also, in one year's time Bethlehem will see the launch of a multi-functional Russian center, one of the biggest in the Middle East, the Society chairman said. In 2013, some 450,000 Russian pilgrims visited Palestine, he recalled. Before the revolution the region was visited annually by around a million people from the Russian Empire.
Today, Russia does not have any property issues in Palestine, Stepashin said responding to a question posed by Interfax. "There is no problem with Palestine. It gave everything that is needed, even more," he said.
Also, Sergius Metochion is due to open in Jerusalem in 2015, Stepashin said.
This spring the Society is planning a number of conferences in Beirut and Geneva, as well as cooperation with Pope Francis on the subject of protecting Christians in the Middle East, he said.
The Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society was founded at the behest of Emperor Alexander III in 1882. The society's main goals and objectives are: to organize Russian pilgrimages to the holy sites (Palestine, Athos, Bari), to assist the Russian Church in its service abroad, to promote the culture among the Middle Eastern population, to conduct a scientific study of the historical heritage of the Holy Land.
After the 1917 revolution the Society ceased to exist but its tradition of scientific research into the Holy Land's historical heritage was continued by the Russian Palestinian society set up by the Soviet Academy of Sciences.
In May 1992, the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society was registered again as a public organization under its historical name. Currently, the Society has 18 regional branches across Russia.
By 1917, the Russian Empire had owned 70 sites in the Holy Land but in 1964 most of them were sold by the Soviet government to Israel for a token sum of $4.5 million (the so-called "orange deal"). The restitution of Russia's historical properties in the region is now under way.