The Jerusalem Municipality announced on Tuesday that is will halt its church property tax collection efforts in light of a decision that was made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mayor Nir Barkat to form a commission to find a solution to the issue.
It was decided that Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi will head the special commission to solve the issue.
Earlier this month, the municipality announced its intention to start collecting taxes from properties owned by churches that are not prayer houses. Two weeks ago, the municipality notified the Finance, Interior and Foreign ministries and the Prime Minister’s Office that it will start collecting a total of NIS 650 million in tax from 887 properties on which there are no houses of prayer. It said it has refrained from such tax collections thus far because the state did not allow it.
This move prompted outrage from the churches based in Jerusalem, who decided on Sunday in a rare move to close the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
In a joint announcement by the three churches running the site, the moved was dubbed a “systematic campaign of abuse against churches and Christians.”
“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,” they said in a statement.
“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.
A source close to the Greek Patriarchy told The Jerusalem Post that the heads of churches are still discussing whether to open the doors of the church or not.
The Jerusalem Municipality said in a statement that they welcome the attempt to resolve the tax issue.
It also stressed that it is “determined to close past debts and future tax payments according to the law, for the sake of the residents of Jerusalem.”