Sunday, February 25, 2018

Protest of Israeli taxation closes Church of the Resurrection

(Jerusalem Post) - Jerusalem heads of churches announced on Sunday, in a rare move, that they are closing down the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in protests of recent moves made by Israeli authorities.

The moves include the Jerusalem Municipality's intention to collect property tax (Arnona) from church-owned properties that are not prayer houses and legislation initiated by MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) that would limit that ability to sell church-owned land to private hands.

Two weeks ago the Jerusalem Municipality notified the Finance, Interior and Foreign ministries, and the Prime Minister’s Office that it will start collecting a total of NIS 650 million in tax from 887 properties that are not houses of prayer. It said that it refrained from doing so thus far because it the state didn't allow it.

It also stressed that the tax would be collected only from properties that do not have churches or any other kind of prayer houses.

These moves by the Israeli authorities were dubbed by the heads of churches as a “systematic campaign of abuse against Churches and Christians.”

“We, the heads of Churches in charge of the Holy Sepulchre and the Status Quo governing the various Christian Holy Sites in Jerusalem - the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the Custody of the Holy Land and the Armenian Patriarchate - are following with great concern the systematic campaign against the Churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land, in flagrant violation of the existing Status Quo,” a statement issued on Sunday read.

“Recently, this systematic and offensive campaign has reached an unprecedented level as 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. A step that is contrary to the historic position of the Churches within the Holy City of Jerusalem and their relationship with the civil authorities. These actions breach existing agreements and international obligations which guarantee the rights and the privileges of the Churches, in what seems as an attempt to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem. The greatest victims in this are those impoverished families who will go without food and housing, as well as the children who will be unable to attend school.

“Therefore, and recalling the Statement of the Patriarchs and Heads of Local Churches in Jerusalem, dated 14 February, 2018 and their previous statement of September 2017, as a measure of protest, we decided to take this unprecedented step of closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,” the statement continued.
“Together with all Heads of Churches in the Holy Land we stand united, firm and resolute in protecting our rights and our properties.”

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said in response to the head of churches’ move that according to his news plan, churches and prayer houses are exempt from paying property taxes - “and it will that this way,” he said.

“But does it make any sense to that commercial area which has hotels and shops would be exempt from paying arnona just because they are owned by a church? For too many years the state did not allow the municipality to collect these debts of these commercial areas… I would not allow that the residents of Jerusalem would close this debt,” Barkat added.

Azaria, who proposed the bill, said she "understands that the church is being pressured, but their land will remain theirs - no one wants to take it from them, ever. My bill is about what happens when the rights are sold to a third side.

"It cannot be that the owners can go door to door and threaten the residents that they'll have to pay NIS 200,000-500,000. The low prices at which entire neighborhoods were sold shows that it was a speculative deal. In this situation, the patriarchate is irrelevant, because it's land sold to private builders," Azaria argued.

Azaria, who used to be Jerusalem deputy mayor, accused Barkat of "creating a crisis instead of solving it [and] creating an unnecessary diplomatic crisis."

The Kulanu MK said she plans to propose a bill exempting churches from municipal taxes, like other religious institutions.

"The trick the mayor is pulling is ugly," she added.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the holiest sites in Christianity, where some believe Jesus was crucified and then entombed prior to his alleged resurrection. The site is one of Israel's most-visited locations, especially for Christian tourists and pilgrims. Over two million Christian tourists visited Israel in 2013, and 90% of those visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, according to Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Adeeb Jawad Joudeh al-Husseini, Keys Custodian of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Holy Grave Seal Holder, told The Jerusalem Post next to the locked doors of the church that this move comes in a crucial timing.

“This is the time of Easter. Tens of thousands of people are coming here to the church,” he said. Closing these gates is a severe blow to all of those who saved money to come here, and spend the holiday here.”

Al-Husseini said that he backs the heads of churches’ move, and calls on the authorities to retract their intention to collect taxes.

“Closing the doors of the church will eventually cause an economic damage to our country’s economy,” he said. “People are coming here from all over the world to visit the holy sites,” he said and added the that it is unknown yet when the doors will reopen.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which was supposed to vote on Azaria's bill Sunday, decided to postpone the vote to try to bring calm to the situation and avoid a crisis.

1 comment:

  1. What does it take to visibly unify the Apostolic Christian faiths at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre? Jesus? No. Love? No. Theologians?
    No. Taxes? Ding Ding!