Israel's Holy Sepulchre church closes in protest of property bills

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Bill proponents say it will protect residents living in those lands from the possibility of real-estate (ditto) firms discontinuing residents' leases. Sunday's statement points out that it targets only the properties of the Christian community.

The protest comes after Jerusalem's municipality announced plans to modify a tax exemption in order to collect $186 million in unpaid taxes from Church assets.

Worldwide legal expert Alan Baker from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs told WIN, "The church must pay property tax on their hotels, residence hostels and stores just like everybody else". We're very happy when the church owns the land.

The closure is a response to proposed legislation that could block the churches from making commercial deals with investors on land they leased long-term to the Israeli government almost 70 years ago, The Washington Post reported.

Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, during the 1967 Middle East war.

"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".

However, the city recently decided, citing the legal opinion of someone it described as an global law expert, that the exemption for churches applies only to properties used "for prayer, for the teaching of religion or for needs arising from that".

For one of the most remarkable elements to the sensational story of the church's closure yesterday is that, given the different sides involved, it didn't leak out.

However, Israeli officials say the church's concerns are baseless.

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However the Church leaders said it was instead "an attempt to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem", describing it as "discriminatory and racist".

The Jerusalem municipality said it would continue to care for the needs of Jerusalem's Christians and maintain their full freedom of worship.

Since the 16th century, previous successive governments have always exempted Jerusalem's churches from paying taxes. The new tax is also seen as a financial blow to the churches. The Times of Israel has reported that the city has a low tax revenue because a large percentage of residents do not work, including ultra-Orthodox Jews and Palestinian Arabs.

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat have agreed to establish a professional team led by Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, with the participation of all relevant parties, to formulate a solution for the issue of municipal taxes on properties owned by churches that are not houses of worship", the statement said.

The two countries claimed a "systematic campaign of abuse".

Church leaders called the recent Israeli measures as "systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land".

Rachel Azaria, the member of Parliament who sponsored the bill, said it is not meant to affect what the church can do with its property, but what happens when the land rights are sold to a third party. He warned: "If we do not act soon, it will be too late".

Earlier in 1990, the church had taken a similar decision to protest against Israeli settlers on its land.