Is Israel Changing Its Position Towards the Jerusalem Churches?

For the first time in the last 100 years, the doors of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre were closed. The reason was the decision of the municipality of Jerusalem on the collection of taxes from the churches (the decision has already been canceled) and the debates in the Knesset on a bill on church property. If the bill is adopted, it will allow the state to expropriate land in Jerusalem that the Greek Orthodox and Catholic churches have sold off since 2010 to private investors. It is evident that all this should have caused dissatisfaction of the leaders of the churches, which was expressed by closing the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

It is not possible to exactly say what the reason was that the Israeli authorities took such steps, but given the choice of the time and the location of the church, we can make a few assumptions.

First of all, it should be remembered that the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by the US was quite badly accepted by the Christian churches of Jerusalem. In spite of the great happiness of the Israeli authorities, 13 patriarchs and leaders of the churches in Jerusalem sent a letter to the US President Donald Trump, warning that the change of the city’s status may have irreversible consequences. In the letter, they urged Trump to recognize Jerusalem’s current international status, noting that Jerusalem belongs to everyone. Obviously, such a position would not be left out of the attention of the Israeli authorities, moreover, it could not remain without response.

Second, the church lands are in the heart of Jerusalem, in the old quarter and are of great value. Thus, in this way, the state tries to gradually take these lands under their own control and, in terms of business, use them “more effectively”.

For centuries, churches in Jerusalem were freed from all types taxes and have the right to freely dispose their property without state interference. Despite the abolition of the decision to tax the churches, recent developments have shown that there is a tendency to change the status quo and deprive churches of this privileged status.

Obviously, there is a tendency for Israeli authorities to change policy towards churches, and at this point some “concessions” are likely to be caused by the increased noise and certain pressure. However, the draft law on church lands is still under discussion and it is not ruled out that the Israeli authorities will do their best to at least adopt that bill. It is interesting what the reaction of Israel would be if such actions were taken against the territories belonging to the Synagogues in other countries.

Greta Avetisyan