In a highly unusual action, the leaders of Jerusalem’s churches closed the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Sunday. The united protest was in response to moves by Jerusalem authorities to begin collecting tens of millions of dollars in taxes from churches, as well as proposed legislation to confiscate church-owned land.
In a statement, the church leaders described a “systematic campaign” against the churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land.
“Recently, this systematic and offensive campaign has reached an unprecedented level as the Jerusalem municipality issued scandalous collection notices and orders of seizure of Church assets, properties and bank accounts for alleged debts of punitive municipal taxes.”
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is jointly managed by a cadre of Orthodox and Catholic churches.
The statement continues: “The systematic campaign of abuse against Churches and Christians reaches now its peak as a discriminatory and racist bill that targets solely the properties of the Christian community in the Holy Land is being promoted.”
Earlier this month, municipal authorities in Jerusalem announced their intention to collect back taxes on property owned by churches in the city, totaling 650 million shekels.
World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said that, with this dramatic and unprecedented action, the heads of churches in Jerusalem are calling for careful attention to a critical situation for the status of the churches there. “We appeal to the government of Israel to terminate these attacks on the future presence of the churches in Jerusalem,” said Tveit. “This situation should call for support and action from church leaders as well as from governments that are concerned about Jerusalem as a shared Holy City of the three religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.