Property owned by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is threatened. The church dates from the fourth century. Christians believe it’s where Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected.
It’s a major tourist and pilgrimage site – located in occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City.
On Sunday, it closed indefinitely, protesting against Israel’s intention to tax commercial property it owns.
Knesset legislation was introduced to expropriate land in Jerusalem sold or leased by churches to private investors since 2010 – under consideration by the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, backed by the Justice Ministry.
Churches are major property owners in the city. The proposed law would make it harder for them to find buyers for church-owned land – sales needed to help fund operating costs of religious sites in the city, church leaders claim.
They called the proposal a “systematic campaign” by Israel against Christians in the holy land.
They’re also protesting against a Jerusalem municipality decision to freeze church assets until they settle claims for unpaid taxes – amounting to around $160 million, no small sum.
They’re furious about the cancellation by Israel’s Jerusalem municipality of a tax exemption granted to church-owned commercial properties in the city.
Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian church leaders said the holy site will stay closed until further notice, calling it an “unprecedented step.”
A statement by Theophilos III, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Francesco Patton, the Custos of the Holy Land, and Nourhan Manougian, the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem said “(t)his abhorrent bill…if approved, would make the expropriation of the lands of churches possible,” adding:
“This reminds us all of laws of a similar nature which were enacted against the Jews during dark periods in Europe.”
Knesset legislation sponsor Rachel Azaria delayed debate on the measure to try resolving the dispute with church leaders.
She claims her bill aims to protect hundred of Israelis living on longterm leased land from churches, dating from the 1950s, largely in Jerusalem, reverting back to churches on expiration of leases.
It’s more seeking a new source of revenue, a considerable amount if her bill becomes law.
Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat tweeted: “Let me make it clear. We are not talking about houses of worship, who will still be exempt from property tax, according to law.”
Jordanian government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani expressed his government’s “full solidarity” with Jerusalem church leaders, saying:
Israeli measures “violate international and humanitarian laws,” calling on Netanyahu to “immediately reverse the decisions taken against churches.”
PA spokesman Yousif al-Mahmoud called Israeli actions against churches a new form of aggression, urging international community intervention to “stop (its) practices.”
Jerusalem church authorities were severely criticized for selling East Jerusalem Old City property to Ateret Cohanim.
It’s an extremist group supported by Trump’s ambassador to Israel David Friedman, involved in buying Muslim quarter land in the city for an exclusive “Jewish presence,” evicting Palestinians from their homes and shops for Judaization.
Picking a fight with Holy Church of the Sepulchre and other holy land church authorities is further evidence of deplorable Israeli practices.