The doors of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre remain closed Monday in protest to Israeli tax measures and a proposed property law, Chancellor at Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem Hovnan Baghdasaryan told Public Radio of Armenia.
Christian leaders took the rare step on Sunday of closing Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The Heads of Churches are protesting the Jerusalem municipality’s new policy on municipal tax payments for Church property.
Christian leaders in the Holy Land also protest against the bill of the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation that would allow the state to expropriate property in the Holy Land leased by the Christian Churches.
Hovnan Baghdasaryan said the only response to the protest was the decision by the Knesset Ministerial Committee to delay action on the bill for a week.
“However, we are not satisfied with this. We demand that the bill is cancelled and not brought to Knesset’s plenary agenda,” he said, adding that the church will be opened only after demands are met.
The Chancellor said for centuries churches and temples have been exempt from taxes. He said churches have property, which they lease and pay taxes, but with the latest decision the authorities want to impose tax on churches and temples, as well, which is unacceptable.
According to Hovnan Baghdasaryan, this was an “unprecedented” and “a very serious step by Christian leaders.
“The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered the holiest site of the Christian world. We have hundreds of pilgrims and tourists that have arrived here to see it and are deprived of the opportunity to pray in the church today,” the Chancellor said.
“We expect that the Israeli authorities and the City Hall will revoke their decision,” Hovnan Baghdasaryan said.
The bill looks to enable the state to expropriate all properties the church will agree to lease to private entrepreneurs and not companies recognized by the state.
According to the Chancellor of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, “this restricts the opportunities of the church to agree on a better deal with private entrepreneurs and forces churches to conclude agreements with companies recognized by the state only.”
The decision to close the church was extremely rare.
In 1990, Christian sites including the Holy Sepulchre were closed for a day to protest the installation of Jewish settlers near the church, located in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
Christian sites were shut for two days in 1999 to protest the planned construction of a mosque near Nazareth’s Church of the Annunciation, where tradition holds the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary she was to become the mother of Jesus.