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Church of the Holy Sepulchre closes in protest over Israeli local tax bill

Pilgrims turned away over Knesset attempt to regulate church-owned businesses

    The Church of the Holy Sepulchre closed its doors on Sunday
    The Church of the Holy Sepulchre closed its doors on Sunday (Photo: Flash90)

    The Church of the Holy Sepulchre took the unusual step of closing its doors in Sunday in protest of Israeli proposals to tax church-owned hotels and restaurants in Jerusalem. 

    Hundreds of pilgrims were told they could not visit because of the move to raise awareness of the the bill in the Knesset to introduce local taxation.   

    The church contains two of the holiest sites in Christianity: the site where Jesus was crucified and his empty tomb, where he is said to have been buried and resurrected.

    In a joint statement the leaders of three of the churches in Jerusalem described the law currently being proposed by Knesset backbenchers as “abhorrent”, adding: “it reminds reminds us all of laws of a similar nature which were enacted against the Jews during dark periods in Europe”. 

    It was not immediately clear which antisemitic laws the church leaders were referring to. 

    City Hall officials insisted their only interest was having the churches pay taxes on restaurants and hostels that they operate in the city like any other business. They did not want to tax the churches themselves, they said. 

    The financial affairs of churches are generally left untouched in Israel and there no laws in the country to regulate them. 

    But a new bill by Rachel Azaria from the centrist Kulanu party, which has yet to receive government backing, would affect hundreds of tenants on land recently sold by the Greek Orthodox Church to property speculators. 

    “The law is not against the church in any way,” Ms Azaria insisted. 

    “It is about land that the church has already sold to speculators and it is designed to protect the tenants who are now being forced to pay exorbitant sums or to leave their homes.” 

    Critics said the bill in its present state would allow the Israeli government to expropriate church land. 

    “We would much prefer the church to continue owning these lands,” Ms Azaria said. “The problem is that they’ve sold them on.” 

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