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 Monday, June 24 2024 17:21
Marianna Mkrtchyan

Heads of churches say Israeli government is demanding they pay  property tax, upsetting status quo

Heads of churches say Israeli government is demanding they pay  property tax, upsetting status quo

ArmInfo. Leaders of major churches have accused Israeli authorities of launching a "coordinated  attack" on the Christian presence in the Holy Land by initiating tax proceedings against them.

While Israeli officials have tried to dismiss the disagreement as a  routine financial matter, the churches say the move upsets a  centuries-old status quo and reflects mounting intolerance for the  tiny Christian presence in the Holy Land.

In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week, the heads  of the major Christian denominations alleged that four municipalities  across Israel had recently submitted warning letters to church  officials cautioning them of legal action if they did not pay taxes.

"We believe these efforts represent a coordinated attack on the  Christian presence in the Holy Land," wrote the heads of the  Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox churches. "In this  time, when the whole world, and the Christian world in particular,  are constantly following the events in Israel, we find ourselves,  once again, dealing with an attempt by authorities to drive the  Christian presence out of the Holy Land."

Christians are a tiny minority, making up less than 2% of the  population of Israel and the Palestinian territories. There are  182,000 Christians in Israel, 50,000 in the West Bank and Jerusalem  and 1,300 in Gaza, according to the U.S. State Department. The vast  majority are Palestinians.

The churches, who are major landowners in the Holy Land, say they do  not pay property taxes under longstanding tradition. They say their  funds go to services that benefit the state, like schools, hospitals  and homes for the elderly.

The letter said the municipalities of Tel Aviv, Ramla, Nazareth and  Jerusalem in recent months have all either issued warning letters or  commenced legal action for alleged tax debts.

The Jerusalem municipality told The Associated Press that the church  had not submitted the necessary requests for tax exemptions over the  last few years. It said that "a dialogue is taking place with the  churches to collect debts for the commercial properties they own."

The other municipalities did not immediately comment. It was unclear  if the municipalities acted in a coordinated effort or whether the  tax moves are coincidental.

In 2018, Christians closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - revered  by Christians as the site of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection - to  protest a move by Israeli officials to impose taxes on commercial  properties in the holy city.

The Christian leaders argued that the sites - like pilgrim hostels  and information centers - served important religious and cultural  purposes, and that taxing them would infringe on Christian religious  observance in the Holy Land. After the public backlash, Netanyahu  quickly suspended the plan.  

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