Dubai: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in occupied East Jerusalem will continue to be closed until Israel backs off its decision to collect taxes on hundreds of properties in the city owned by the church, a Palestinian official said.
Hanna Amira, chairman of the Palestinian National Authority’s Higher Presidential Committee for Christian Affairs told Gulf News the Israeli measures — the first of its kind against Palestinian Christians — could be followed by a similar measures against the Islamic Awqaf in occupied Jerusalem, which is sacred to followers of all three monotheistic religions, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.
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“These are unprecedented measures,” Amira said.
“The [Israeli] municipality [in occupied East Jerusalem] is targeting a large number of organisations and institutions owned by churches,” he said.
There are nearly 130 such institutions, including 10 schools, four hospitals, care-homes and other charity organisations, providing assistance to tens of thousands of people, Christians and non-Christians alike, in occupied Jerusalem and outside it, Amira explained.
The occupied city’s Israeli municipality says churches owe it more than $185 million on certain properties used for commercial purposes.
In response, leaders of the Greek Orthodox, Catholic and Armenian churches said Israel was waging a “systematic campaign against the churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land, in flagrant violation of the existing status quo”.
On Sunday, the doors of the sacred church were closed for the first time since 1948.
The action was also a response to a proposed law that would stop the churches from making commercial deals with investors on land they leased long-term to the Israeli government nearly 70 years ago, reports said.
Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, was quoted as saying the issue showed the “dramatic reality of the Palestinian people in [occupied] Jerusalem, and particularly of our churches”.
“It’s time for President Trump and his administration to realise the consequences of their encouragement for the Israeli policies of occupation and exclusivity in [occupied] Jerusalem,” Erekat said.
Amira told Gulf News that Israeli “measures target occupied Jerusalem, the social fabric of the city, as well as the Christian presence”.
Currently, the Palestinian and Jordanian leadership are in contact to come up with means to pressure Israel to change its decision. The Vatican also is involved.
“The Israeli municipality has shown stubbornness,” Amira said, adding that he hoped pressure would be exerted on Israel to stop its aggression against the Palestinians.
The fate of the occupied East Jerusalem is among the most sensitive issues between the Palestinians and Israelis.
Palestinian officials say US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise the city as Israel’s capital last December has “actually increased Israel’s appetite for expansion and boosted its colonisation plans in all fields,” said Amira.
“Decisions targeting Christian Awqaf owned churches will later lead to imposition of taxes on Islamic Awqaf and on the entire city,” Amira said.
“This is a battle against all Jerusalem.”
The occupation of Jerusalem
■ During the 1967 War Israel illegally seized Jerusalem. Weeks later the regime extended Israeli administration to the occupied Palestinian Territories, where it unilaterally extended the municipal borders of West Jerusalem to include East Jerusalem. The city was annexed by Israel in 1980 under Prime Minister Menachem Begin, an act internationally condemned and declared illegal by the United Nations.
Over the years, Israel has boosted the Jewish population of Jerusalem by implementing systematic measures aimed at making life difficult for the city's Palestinaian residents.