Churches in Holy Land denounce ‘coordinated attack’ against Christians by Israeli authorities

Churches in Holy Land denounce ‘coordinated attack’ against Christians by Israeli authorities Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, patriarch of Jerusalem, looks over the ruins of buildings in Gaza City. He visited northern Gaza Strip May 16-19, 2024, during Pentecost. Photo: OSV News/courtesy Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem

In the midst of the Hamas-Israel war in Gaza, the patriarchs and leaders of ancient Christian churches in Jerusalem have signed a joint document in which they denounce that four Israeli municipalities have sought to levy municipal taxes on church properties in violation of “centuries” of historical agreements.

The Church leaders, including Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Catholic patriarch of Jerusalem and Franciscan Fr Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, accuse local authorities of launching a “coordinated attack” against the Christian presence in the Holy Land.

“We believe these efforts represent a coordinated attack on the Christian presence in the Holy Land. At this time when the entire world, and in particular the Christian world, is constantly following the events in Israel, we find ourselves once again faced with an attempt by the authorities to expel the Christian presence from the Holy Land,” the leaders stated in a letter addressed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which has been quoted in various media such as The Times of Israel, Asia News, and UCA News.

In the June 23 letter, the Church leaders expressed concern after receiving warning letters or notice of legal proceedings from four municipalities in Israel (Tel Aviv, Ramla, Nazareth, and Jerusalem) for alleged tax debts.

However, the leaders pointed out that “for centuries” church properties have had exemptions from municipal taxes according to the established status quo and that the churches have used this exemption to invest in services that benefit the state such as “schools, hospitals, nursing homes and facilities for the disadvantaged”.

The leaders pointed out that the municipal actions are “tendentious” and contrary to the historical position of the churches and their relationship with the government, “violating the existing agreements and international commitments that ensure the rights of the churches”.

“It is an outrage that, specifically during such sensitive and complicated times when patience, compassion, unity in prayer and hope should prevail, municipalities are opening cases against churches in courts and making threats. This constitutes contempt of our customs and that which is dear to us, while trampling the mutual respect that existed between us until this time,” the letter stated.

In an interview with the Associated Press, the Jerusalem Municipality stated that church authorities have not submitted the necessary applications for tax exemption in recent years.

They also said that, currently, “a dialogue is underway to collect debts” in connection with “commercial properties”.