Famous Jerusalem church shut over tax protest

Howard TerryFeb 26, 2018

Jerusalem's famous Church of the Holy Sepulchre has shut indefinitely in an unprecedented move amid a fierce row with the Israeli government.

These moves were dubbed by the heads of churches as a "systematic campaign of abuse against Churches and Christians".

The bill set to approved by Israeli ministers would restrict the rights of churches to deal independently with their own land and also threatens church land around the Jaffa gate of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Israeli lawmakers say the bill is meant to protect homeowners against the possibility that private companies will not extend their leases of land on which their houses or apartments stand. But last month the Municipality issued a statement in which it said it had begun a major process of collecting municipal taxes from offices, schools, and buildings designated for various purposes owned by the churches.However, Azaria made it clear that municipal taxes would not be collected from prayer houses, which are exempt from taxation.

The Christian leaders call it a violation of the "status quo" by the mayor; municipal law requires them to pay city taxes on all real estate, except for the churches themselves.

"The Jerusalem municipality issued scandalous collection notices and orders of seizure of Church assets, properties and bank accounts for alleged debts of punitive municipal taxes", Theophilos III, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Francesco Patton, the Custos of the Holy Land, and Nourhan Manougian, the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, said. "No one wants to take it from them, ever", said the legislator who proposed the bill, Rachel Azaria.

"This reminds us all of laws of a similar nature which were enacted against the Jews during a dark period in Europe".

Fatah Movement condemned the Israeli decision; saying that these decisions target the Christian presence in Palestine.

Barkat stressed the changes applied only to establishments such as "hotels, halls and businesses" that were owned by the churches.

Government Spokesperson Yousef Al-Mahmoud called for a prompt global intervention to stop these Israeli measures, which he stressed, are a blatant attack on all agreements and worldwide conventions and norms that guarantee the freedom of worship and respect the holiness of religious sites under all circumstances.

Separately, parliament is pursuing a bill that will appropriate lands in Israel sold by churches to anonymous buyers since 2010. According to Christian tradition, it is built above the site of the crucifixion and Christ's vacant tomb; it is considered one of the holiest sites in Christianity. They were entrusted to them by Saladin, the Muslim conqueror who seized the holy city from the Crusaders in 1187, which represents the very core of Jerusalem's coexistence between religions.

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