Holy Sepulchre to remain closed indefinitely- Officials

Written by on February 27, 2018

Leaders of the two largest Christian denominations in Jerusalem have said the Church of the Holy Sepulchre will remain closed indefinitely to protest an Israeli attempt to tax their properties in the holy city.

Both Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic representatives said they were blindsided by the Israeli-run Jerusalem municipality’s recent decision to begin taxing them.

They accused the mayor, Nir Barkat, of disrupting a longstanding and fragile status quo with Palestinian Christians.

Anna Koulouris, an official in the chief secretariat’s office of the Greek Patriarchate, said that all major Christian denominations were united in their opposition to the Israeli move.

“They are serious,” she said. “They really want to see something change before they think about reopening the doors.”

The church, situated in Jerusalem’s Old City, is one of Christianity’s holiest sites, revered as the spot where Jesus was crucified and resurrected. It is a popular destination for tourists and Christian pilgrims from around the world.

Barkat has said the order does not affect houses of worship, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and only applies to what he calls “commercial properties” owned by the churches, including hotels and office space.

He said the churches have debts of roughly $185 million.

“We will no longer require Jerusalem’s residents to bear or subsidise this huge debt,” he said in a statement.

He claimed Jerusalem has a “good and respectful relationship” with all churches in the city.

But church representatives said Barkat’s hasty move threatened that relationship and that the sudden taxes would jeopardise schools, health clinics and other vital services for their local flocks.

Both Koulouris and Farid Jubran, a legal adviser to the Roman Catholic Church’s custodian of holy sites, said the churches were never formally notified of Barkat’s decision and learned of it through the media.

Both officials said they do not know how the city even calculated their debts or decided which buildings to tax.

“We’re talking about land with spiritual significance to people,” Koulouris said. “Where do you draw the line?”

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