Sacred Jerusalem church closes for second day

01 March, 2018, 12:55 | Author: Diane Mills
  • Christian sects shut down famous Jerusalem church to protest taxes, proposed land bill

JERUSALEM - It seems you can fight city hall.

The Knesset bill will reportedly allow the government to expropriate property sold by the churches to private companies over the past decade.

An Israeli ministerial committee on Sunday delayed action on the bill for a week, AFP said.

Meanwhile, church representatives have accused Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat of breaching global treaties after the municipality said it planned to collect 650 million shekels ($186 million) in back taxes owned by churches and worldwide bodies with property in the city.

The two countries claimed a "systematic campaign of abuse".

A statement was issued on Sunday signed by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem; the Catholic Custos of the Holy Land, Fr Francesco Patton; the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, Patriarch Nourhan Manougian and others.

The church leaders, who jointly manage the vast site in Jerusalem's Old City, have also complained of plans by the city's municipality to start taxing church-owned properties.

This year, the Jerusalem Municipality announced that it would start collecting property tax from church-owned properties.

The closure is a response to proposed legislation that could block the churches from making commercial deals with investors on land they leased long-term to the Israeli government almost 70 years ago, The Washington Post reported.

More news: PNB Fraud: Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi's Passports Revoked

Old Town, Christian Quarter, Church of the Holy Sepulchre (also called the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre), Anastasia Rotunda.

Local Muslims and Christians have said that such a move could upset the religious balance in Jerusalem, a city holy to all three religions.

The leaders called on city officials to retract their intention and to "ensure that the status quo, which was sanctioned by the sacred history, is maintained, and the character of the Holy City of Jerusalem is not violated".

The government ultimately hopes to collect about $188 million from 887 properties.

On Sunday, a Jordanian government spokesman, Mohammad Momani, said that the kingdom rejected the "systematic" measures by Israeli authorities to alter the status quo in Jerusalem, and urged Israel "to immediately reverse the decisions taken against churches and to respect its obligations as an occupying power in East Jerusalem in accordance with global law". It argues that a new legal opinion proves that Church-owned properties are liable for tax. It's all about land that was sold by the churches.

"Many church assets are being frozen, fines threatened, and hundreds of thousands of dollars seized from Christian churches in an effort that will severely curtail Christian freedom of practice".

Israel's current negotiations with the Holy See are created to codify these exemptions.

Commercial buildings are not exempt from municipal taxes (arnona), regardless of their ownership.

They fear that the law would make it harder for them to find buyers for their land and enable the expropriation of church land.

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