Israel has suspended a plan to tax church properties in Jerusalem following a backlash. In response, Christian leaders have reopened the Church of the Holy Sepulchre after closing it due to the controversial measures.
The Israeli government said on Tuesday it would suspend a controversial tax and expropriation bill that Christian leaders in Jerusalem had earlier described as a “systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land.”
The Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Roman Catholic churches closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Sunday in protest of the Jerusalem Municipality’s tax and land right plans. However, Christian leaders reversed their decision on Tuesday following the Israeli government’s decision to suspend the measures.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said it would suspend tax collection on church properties, suspend a proposed bill covering the sale and expropriation of church lands, and assemble a team to negotiate with church leaders.
The Jerusalem Municipality wanted to tax churches’ “commercial” properties, saying that churches have uncollected tax debts of roughly €151m ($185m). The tax plan would not affect places of worship.
A separate legislation in parliament sought to allow the Israeli government to expropriate land which the church sold to private land developers. The land bill, according to its drafters, is designed to protect homeowners from the threat of not having their leases extended.
In protest, church leaders of all denominations had closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Sunday. They said Israel was trying to upset the status quo traced back to the Ottoman Empire, and later under the British Mandate for Palestine.
Churches are major landowners in Jerusalem. Their leaders said both the tax and land rights changes would make it more difficult to fund operations.
Palestinians are concerned the land purchases are designed to expand Israeli settlement construction in East Jerusalem, which they claim as the capital of a future state.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the holiest places in Christianity. It is where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected.
The church is located in the Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem. Christians from around the world make pilgrimages to the church, which is run by several denominations.