Worshippers hold candles as they take part in the Christian Orthodox Holy Fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old city May 4, 2013. .
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
Three months after the Jerusalem churches crisis that peaked with a rare three-day closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, three leaders of the dominant churches in the capital on Monday sent an urgent letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protesting the advancement of the so-called “properties bill.”
Greek Orthodox leader Patriarch Theophilos III; Armenian Apostolic Patriarch of Jerusalem Nourhan Manougian; and Roman Catholic Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land – said in a statement they learned from the media that the cabinet is advancing the bill and plans to present it in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, and that they have asked Netanyahu to halt it.
, initiated by MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu), aims to nationalize properties used for housing that were owned by the church and sold to private entrepreneurs. Azaria explained to The Jerusalem Post
in September that the bill was designed to protect residents who live on these properties, and to end the uncertainty regarding their future.
The church leaders said in the letter, “This bill was one of the main reasons for the recent crisis that developed between the Christian community in the Holy Land and the State of Israel... in flagrant breach of the Status Quo, brought us to order the closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as an act of protest.
“We strongly believe that this bill constitutes a systematic and unprecedented attack against the Christians of the Land and violates the most basic rights, thus trampling on the delicate fabric of relations between the Christian community and the State of Israel for decades.
“We, the heads of the Churches, call upon you, Mr. Prime Minister, to act quickly and decisively to block the bill whose unilateral promotion will compel the Churches to reciprocate,” the letter concluded.
However, Azaria said these claims are false, and another bill – not targeting the churches specifically – was submitted on Monday in order to prevent damage to residents living on the previously church-owned properties.
“Per the prime minister’s and the official’s request, we have long halted the advancement of the bill. We have no intention in advancing a bill that discriminates the churches,” Azaria said.
“We have already submitted a bill that deals with the rights of the residents in the leased properties that are now owned by private hands.
“This bill is a substantial part of the solution to the crisis, and also government offices understand the need it, and that is why it was drafted in a way that does not apply directly to churches.
“I wonder if this letter was written after they examined the new bill,” Azaria said.
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