Christian leaders in Jerusalem have closed the doors to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, considered the holiest site in Christianity, to protest a new Israeli tax policy and a proposed property law.

The Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and the Armenian Apostolic leaders accused Israel of a “systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land”.

They said the site, that daily draws thousands to the place where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and later resurrected, will remain closed until further notice.

The Christians are angry that the Jerusalem municipality plans to tax their various assets around the city.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has said the city is owed $186 million in uncollected taxes on Church assets. He said all churches were exempt from the tax changes, and that only Church-owned “hotels, halls and businesses” would be affected.

The protest was also aimed at a bill that would allow the state to expropriate land in Jerusalem sold by churches to private real estate firms in recent years. 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.

The churches, which are major landowners in the holy city, say it violates a long standing status quo and that it will make make it harder for them to find buyers for church-owned land – sales that help to cover operating costs of their religious institutions.

At a news conference in front of the church’s bolted wooden doors the church leaders said the bill  “reminds us all of laws of a similar nature which were enacted against the Jews during a dark period in Europe”.


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