Photo Credit: Micah Bond/FLASH90
In 2018, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem was closed to protest an attempt by Israeli officials to impose taxes on its commercial properties.

While Israeli authorities characterize the conflict over property taxes between prominent churches and four municipalities as a standard disagreement, church leaders view it differently. They claim Israeli officials are orchestrating a deliberate assault on Christianity’s presence in the Holy Land.

Church leaders wrote to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week, claiming that four Israeli municipalities––Tel Aviv, Ramla, Nazareth, and Jerusalem––had recently threatened legal action against church officials for unpaid taxes.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. / Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem since 2020, has told The Associated Press that Jerusalem’s ancient Christian community faces growing threats. He cited increased clergy harassment and vandalism of religious sites, linking these issues to Israel’s current right-wing government. The Associated Press noted that multiple church leaders, including the regional Roman Catholic head, expressed concerns that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition is emboldening extremist elements.

The heads of the Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Orthodox churches have written the PM: “We believe these efforts represent a coordinated attack on the Christian presence in the Holy Land. 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.”

Or, put a different way, it would be a shame when right when Israel needs our support so badly, we won’t be able to help because of those greedy municipalities who got it into their heads that we should pay property taxes so that our streets be kept clean, and multiple city services we richly deserve will keep coming.

The churches, who are among the largest landowners in Israel, insist that they should not pay property taxes, citing a “longstanding tradition.” They say they prefer to hold on to their money and benefit the state through their own schools, hospitals, and old age homes.

According to the church leaders’ letter to Netanyahu, the municipalities of Tel Aviv, Ramla, Nazareth, and Jerusalem have either warned of or initiated legal action to collect tax debts. The Jerusalem municipality informed the AP that churches had failed to file for tax exemptions in recent years. It stated that discussions are ongoing with churches regarding tax collection for their commercial properties.

In 2018, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem was closed to protest an attempt by Israeli officials to impose taxes on its commercial properties.

Church officials contended at the time that taxing sites such as pilgrim hostels and information centers would impede Christian religious practices, insisting that these commercial locations serve crucial spiritual and cultural functions. Back then, Netanyahu swiftly halted the plan following public outcry.

Incidentally, throughout their interview with the AP, those church leaders did not refer even once to the “State of Israel” or parts thereof, but only to “The Holy Land.”

Let them pay.

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