The Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian church leaders in Jerusalem on Sunday announced the closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher until further notice, in protest against a pending Knesset legislation allowing the state to expropriate land that the churches have sold to Jewish real estate companies since 2010.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Christian tradition holds that Jesus was crucified and buried, stands in Jerusalem's Old City, captured by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war. These actions breach existing agreements and global obligations which guarantee the rights and the privileges of the Churches, in what seems as an attempt to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem.
"This systematic and offensive campaign has reached and 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". He stressed that the Holy Sepulchre and other churches were exempt from the taxes and that they would remain so.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said on Twitter it was illogical to expect that church-owned commercial property, including hotels and retail businesses, would continue to enjoy tax-exempt status.
Proponents of the new land bill say it will limit the ability of the church to sell its land to private buyers, which may lead homeowners living there into uncertainty about their leases. Landholders would be compensated, she said.
The Greek Orthodox Church is one of the biggest landowners in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and its quiet sale of land to anonymous investors in recent years has attracted controversy.