Yesterday, Sunday the 26th of February 2018, the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate in Jerusalem decided together with the Greek and the Catholic Church, to close the doors of the Holy Sepulchre.
The events leading up to this decision concern recent Israeli tax policies targeting Christian Churches only, while other religious institutions are exempt.
The municipality of Jerusalem announced -in blatant violation of the Status Quo and property rights- that Churches have to pay retroactively taxes for Church properties. The amounts demanded in this discriminatory procedures concern millions of shekels.
A proposed legislation in the Israeli Parliament calls for retroactive expropriation of the ownership of lands sold by Churches to private companies and buyers.
After yesterday’s closure of the Holy Sepulcher the Israeli Ministerial Committee for Legislation postponed voting on this bill for a week.
A joint statement by the Heads of Churches was read yesterday at the closure of the Holy Sepulchre, the most important Church in Christianity:
“We, the Heads of Churches in charge of the Holy Sepulchre and the Status Quo governing the various Christian Holy Sites in Jerusalem – the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the Custody of the Holy Land and the Armenian Patriarchate – are following with great concern the systematic campaign against the Churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land, in flagrant violation of the existing Status Quo.
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. 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. These actions breach existing agreements and international obligations which guarantee the rights and the privileges of the Churches, in what seems as an attempt to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem. The greatest victims in this are those impoverished families who will go without food and housing, as well as the children who will be unable to attend school.
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. This abhorrent bill is set to advance today in a meeting of a ministerial committee which if approved, would make the expropriation of the lands of Churches possible. This reminds us all of laws of a similar nature which were enacted against the Jews during dark periods in Europe.
This systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land severely violates the most basic, and antique and sovereign rights, trampling on the delicate fabric of relations between the Christian Community and the authorities for decades.
Therefore, and recalling the statement of the Patriarchs and Heads of Local Churches in Jerusalem, dated 14 February, 2018 and their previous statement of September 2017, as a measure of protest, we decided to take this unprecedented step of closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Together with all Heads of Churches in the Holy Land we stand united, firm and resolute in protecting our rights and our properties.
May the Holy Spirit answer our prayers and bring a resolution to this historic Crisis in our Holy City.”