PNN / Bethlehem
In an unprecedented move, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City was closed on Sunday, and will remain closed indefinitely in protest of municipal legislation that would allow Israeli authorities to expropriate Church land.
The heads of the churches who jointly manage the Church of the Holy Sepulchre announced the closure outside of the church on Sunday.
Copies of their written statement called the ‘Church Land’s Bill’ a ‘flagrant violation of the existing status quo’ that ‘breach(es) existing agreements and international obligations which guarantee the rights and privileges of the Churches, in what seems as an attempt to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem.’
‘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,’ the statement continued.
The religious leaders, representing the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, The Custody of the Holy Land, and the Armenian Patriarchate, likened the legislative measures to the ‘dark periods’ in Europe in which Jewish land was often subjugated and expropriated.
The bill in question concerns land that was sold by the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches since 2010.
Previously, the land, which amounts roughly 50 hectares and containing more than 1,000 housing units, was leased to the Jewish National Fund by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate for housing purposes.
The decision made by the Greek Orthodox authority to sell the land complicates the matter, and drew the ire of the Christian community in Israel and Palestine.
The new bill proposes that should any land leased by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate to the JNF or to any other party be sold, it would be assumed by the state who will compensate whoever makes the purchase.
The bill would grant the state ultimate authority over lands sold by the church.
The bill is set to be presented before a ministerial comity on Sunday.