Armenian Jerusalem

The assembly of Christian churches in Jerusalem have voiced "grave concern"

over new moves by the Israeli government to tax vacant church properties.

While previous such moves have ended in failure, the Israelis have not tried

hard to mask their intention to persist in their efforts to impose an "arnona"

(property tax) on properties owned by the various churches which have been

unoccupied for some time.

The assembly, the Heads of Churches of the Holy City of Jerusalem, a loose conglomeration of the 13 Christian churches officially recognized by the Israeli State, warned of dire consequences should Israel not desist. Relations between the Israeli government and the Christian churches are governed by an protocol promulgated in the 19th Century during the Ottoman administration of the Holy Land. Under a set of agreements which set into cement the status quo at the time, the Ottomans pledged to exempt church properties from taxation and granted them several privileges. One Ottoman ruler, Sultan Chakmak, even went so far as to damn any "accursed or son of accursed" who dared impugn on the rights and privileges of the Armenian church. His edict is engraved in a marble plaque that hangs at the entrance to the Convent of St James, seat of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Subsequent administrators of the Holy Land, like the Jordanians, expressed their support of the status quo and adhered to its tenets. The churches warned that "any erosion of the understanding of the status quo agreements between the State of Israel and Christian churches threatens the well-being of the Christian churches and their ability to continue the various ministries of pastoral care, education and health care which they provide." The churches claimed any moves by Israeli authorities to impose the "arnona" would be in contravention of the so-called "status quo" agreements which have governed relations between the churches and governments since Ottoman times. The assembly noted that the status quo agreements have been recognized as authoritative by Israeli government officials and spokesmen say they fail to understand why the current administration is moving in an opposite direction. The Heads of Churches of the Holy City of Jerusalem comprises the three Patriarchs (Greek, Latin and Armenian), and the archbishops and bishops who head the 13 Christian churches which include the Copts, Ethiopians, Assyrians or Syriacs and the Protestants. The Heads of Churches affirmed their support for the Armenian church "to continue to encourage Israeli authorities to respect t the status quo understanding which provides for the tax- free status of church-owned properties." "The Heads of Churches believes this respect is essential for the ongoing health of the relationship between the three Abrahamaic faiths which exist in Israel as well as the relationship each has with the government of Israel," the statement said. The assembly also voiced its support for the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, Rt Rev Suheil Dawani, "in his pursuit of justice through the Israeli court system." The statement alleged the Bishop has been falsely accused of forgery and of transferring lands owned by Jews to the Palestinians and of helping to register lands of Jewish people in the name of his church. In view of what Israeli authorities view as serious charges, they have revoked the residence permits of the bishop and his family. "Bishop Dawani has sought to resolve this issue quietly without resort to any publicity since August of 2010 without success," the statement added.
Church of All Nations