Church of the Holy Sepulchre shuts over Israeli tax law

Christian sects shut down famous Jerusalem church to protest taxes, proposed land bill

Custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is shared by the Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic denominations.

The Jerusalem municipality recently announced that it would start collecting property tax from church-owned properties.

Rachel Azaria, the Israeli lawmaker behind the legislation, said her bill was not created to take away property belonging to religious institutions but focused on large tracts of land leased by church authorities to Israel after the state's creation in 1948.

(G.N.S) DT.26 They added: "As a measure of protest, we chose to take this unprecedented step of closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre".

The church of the Holy Sepulchre, which attracts thousands of pilgrims each year, is one of Israel's most visited sites.

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

Israel's neighbour condemned on Sunday the proposed property law and decision to impose taxes on church-owned facilities in Jerusalem. Additionally, the church was responding to the Knesset bill that strives to allow the state to seize properties sold by churches since 2010 providing compensation to owners.

"We closed the church for specific reasons and for an unlimited period of time", one church official said on condition of anonymity, reports Yahoo!

Mohammed Momani, a government spokesman, said that Jordan rejects Israel's attempt to "alter the historical and legal status quo" in east Jerusalem's holy sites - including Muslim and Christian properties and endowments.

But, he said in response to the statement, all churches were exempt from the tax changes "and it will stay this way", and that only Church-owned commercial properties - such as hotels and restaurants - would be affected.

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Christian sites were shut for two days in 1999 to protest the planned construction of a mosque near Nazareth's Church of the Annunciation, where tradition holds the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary she was to become the mother of Jesus. Church officials only said that it would be until further notice.

As media gathered to hear the church leaders, pilgrims wandered around the church square, some kneeling in front of the massive wooden doors - the closest they would come to entering the church.

The Municipality is also demanding that Churches pay these taxes retroactively and has calculated them on assets and properties, as well as their bank accounts.

"So this has been the issue that has pushed the church leaders in Jerusalem over the edge to say "this threatens our very existence as churches, as Christians in this holy city and enough is enough". It seems that these negotiations failed to find a common ground, therefore, the decision was taken by the municipality to collect taxes from the church.

Palestine Liberation Organisation Secretary General Saeb Erekat, however, said the dispute showed the 'dramatic reality of the Palestinian people in Jerusalem, and particularly of our churches'.

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"If the state wishes the current situation to continue, we demand that it fully compensate us for those sums", Barkat said.

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