Church of the Holy Sepulchre closes its doors in protest

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Jerusalem's Christian leaders, Sunday, chose to close the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, in the old City of Jerusalem, in protest of Israel's tax policy and a proposed land appropriation law.

It was signed by the Greek Orthodox and Armenian patriarchs of Jerusalem as well as the Catholic custody of the Holy Land. "A step that is contrary to the historic position of the Churches within the Holy City of Jerusalem and their relationship with the civil authorities". "Therefore... as a measure of protest, we decided on an unprecedented step of closing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre", the statement said. The church would remain closed until further notice.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said, "The Church of the Holy Sepulchre and prayer houses of all churches are exempt from municipal taxes; there is no change in this and it will continue".

These moves were dubbed by the heads of churches as a "systematic campaign of abuse against Churches and Christians".

Separately, legislation being considered by the government would allow church property to be expropriated.

Not really. The new law would simply make sure the churches aren't facing individual homeowners when the time comes for renewing the 99-year option on their lease, but instead they'd be doing business with the state, which is out to protect the same homeowners.

Rachel Azaria, the lawmaker who sponsored the legislation, said in a statement she agreed to delay the committee's discussion by a week so that "we could work with the churches" to try to resolve the dispute.

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The Jerusalem city authorities have also recently cancelled tax exemptions granted to church-owned commercial properties and are now demanding back payments.

"This reminds us all of laws of a similar nature which were enacted against the Jews during dark periods in Europe", the church leaders said. Hundreds of Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrated against the Greek Patriarch Theosopholis III in Nazareth in September, following the final announcement of the Church's sale of property in East Jerusalem to the settler group. But does it make sense to anyone that commercial areas like hotels, halls, and businesses should be exempt from municipal taxes only because they are owned by churches?

Government Spokesperson Yousef Al-Mahmoud called for a prompt global intervention to stop these Israeli measures, which he stressed, are a blatant attack on all agreements and worldwide conventions and norms that guarantee the freedom of worship and respect the holiness of religious sites under all circumstances.

ReutersWorshippers hold candles as they take part in the Christian Orthodox Holy Fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. "My bill is about what happens when the rights are sold to a third side".

The decision to close the church wasn't the first of kind; however, it still extremely rare.

Sabbagh says that although Palestinian Christians support any moves to deter the Israeli occupation's encroachment on their holy sites, there needs to be more transparency within the church. They were entrusted to them by Saladin, the Muslim conqueror who seized the holy city from the Crusaders in 1187, which represents the very core of Jerusalem's coexistence between religions.

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