Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Church of the Holy Sepulchre reopens after Israel backs away from controversial measures

By Elizabeth Jenkins - March 05, 2018
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [Christians ] [Jerusalem] [Israeli government]

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre reopened its doors early on Wed. 28, in response to the Israeli government’s decision to suspend the controversial bill and tax plan.
The heads of the Greek Orthodox Church, the Custody of the Holy Land and the Armenian Church announced the decision to close the holiest site for Christians on Sun. 25.
In a statement, they denounced a “systematic campaign against the Churches and Christian community in the Holy Land, in flagrant violation of the existing Status Quo.”
According to the Status Quo, churches are exempt from tax on the basis that they have an otherwise important social mission, providing social housing for example.
Initiated by the Jerusalem municipality, the move to collect property tax would have applied retroactively. The churches would have been facing a debt of 650 million shekels ($186 million).
At the same time, the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation was proposing a bill that would have authorised expropriation of private lands sold by churches since the beginning of the decade.
PLO Executive Committee Member, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, described such policies as deliberately targeting the Christian community in order to impose exclusive Jewish control in Jerusalem.
In a statement, Ashrawi noted; “This is part of the further escalation in Israel’s policies to isolate Jerusalem and ethnically cleanse its Palestinian population from the city."  
Both Ashrawi and Yusef Daher, head of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Center, drew the links between the proposed measures and U.S. President Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.
“Trump gave [Israel] a green light on Jerusalem, they thought they could have it. (…) Today with the demonstration [we] said no, you cannot,” said Daher, referring to the demonstration outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Tues. 27.
Although the proposed tax plan and bill sparked outrage within the Palestinian community, the current head of the Greek Orthodox Church, Theosopholis III, has himself recently come under heavy fire.
In July 2017, it became apparent that land in Jerusalem, Caesarea and Jaffa had been sold by the Church for very little, with the first large contract dating back to 2011. Concurrently in July 2017, the Israeli High Court ruled in favour of the settler group Ateret Cohanim, who bought land in Jerusalem from the Greek Orthodox Church under then-Patriarch Irenaios.
When details of the deal emerged in 2005, a wave of scandal crashed over the Church. Similarly, the revelations of July 2017 led to a series of protests. In January, Palestinians in Bethlehem shouted 'traitor’ at Theosopholis III when he came to the Church of the Nativity for the Christmas ceremony.
In recent years, the calls for the head of the Orthodox Church to be a Palestinian have become louder.
However, consensus reigned regarding the now-suspended Israeli measures directed at the Churches. Ashrawi reiterated; “Jerusalem cannot and must not be subject to exclusive possession and greed.” 

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