Palestinian Churches in Jerusalem Cry Foul over Israeli Tax Law

Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem. (Photo:
Three major Holy Land churches implored Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday to prevent the advancement of a draft bill they said was aimed at expropriating their lands.

Heads of the Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Catholic churches in Jerusalem also accused the Israeli authorities of failing to keep a commitment made just a few months ago that brought an end to a major crisis between the sides.

In February, the Jerusalem municipality began enforcing tax collection on church property, while separately lawmakers in the parliament worked on advancing a law that would allow expropriation of church property.

The church leaders in protest closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built at the site of Jesus’s burial in Jerusalem, following which Israeli authorities froze both the tax measures and the legislation, committing to a dialogue with Palestinian Christians over the issues.

Rachel Azaria, a lawmaker with the centrist coalition party Kulanu, recently renewed work on a slightly revised bill that does not mention churches but would let the state expropriate the rights over lands sold by such bodies in Jerusalem while offering compensation.

In their Monday letter to Netanyahu, the Palestinian Christian leaders slammed the “scandalous bill,” accusing its backers of an “unprecedented attack against the Christians of the Land.”

They said:

“Certain elements in the government of Israel are still attempting to promote divisive, racist and subversive agendas, thereby undermining the Status Quo and targeting the Christian community on the basis of extraneous and populist considerations.”

The church leaders also said that despite the Israeli commitment to communicate on these issues via a specially appointed commitment headed by Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, “no dialogue whatsoever has taken place with us” since the end of February.

The church leaders said:

“We view such conduct, from those who promote the bill, as a flagrant violation and undermining of Your Excellency’s commitment and of the basic and fundamental freedom of worship.”

The church heads called on Netanyahu to swiftly “block the bill whose unilateral promotion will compel the Churches to reciprocate”.

There was no immediate comment from Netanyahu’s office.

Hanegbi refused to comment.

A spokeswoman for Azaria told AFP the bill was coordinated with Netanyahu and Hanegbi.

(Al Araby Al-Jadeed, PC, Social Media)

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