Protesting several recent actions they described as a “systematic campaign…against the churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land,” the heads of Christian churches announced on 25th February they were closing of the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for an undisclosed period of time.
Bewildered pilgrims milled around the square in front of the church as Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III – flanked by Franciscan Fr Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, and Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian – read a short statement to the press. At the same time, the only two people allowed to close the doors – the Muslim custodian of the key, Adeeb Jawad Joudeh Al Husseini, and Muslim door keeper Wajeeh Nuseibeh – closed and locked the doors.
“This systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land severely violates the most basic…and sovereign rights, trampling on the delicate fabric of relations between the Christian community and the authorities for decades,” the heads of churches said in their statement.
The Church leaders were protesting the Jerusalem municipality’s intention to impose property taxes on church property, such as hotels and convention centers, not used for worship purposes. The proposal to levy taxes on some properties would run contrary to the unofficial historical tax-exempt status the churches have enjoyed for centuries.
In addition, the Church leaders said they oppose a bill in the Israeli parliament that would limit the ability to sell church-owned land to private owners. The bill, whose vote was postponed following the church protest, would be specifically detrimental to the Greek Orthodox Church, which owns large tracts of land in central Jerusalem upon which many private homes are built; many of those 99-year-old building rental contracts will soon expire. The Church already has sold some of the land to private owners, and homeowners whose apartments are on the land worry about losing their homes.
Picture: Tourists stand outside the locked doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on 26th February in Jerusalem’s Old City. Protesting several recent actions they described as a “systematic campaign against the churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land,” the heads of Christian churches announced on 25th February they were closing of the doors of the church. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill).