Church of Holy Sepulchre stuck with bill

J'lem utility to stop providing free water to church, other sites.

By ADAM GONN / THE MEDIA LINE
August 3, 2010 04:27
3 minute read.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

311_Church of Holy sepulchre. (photo credit: Wayne McLean)

Pilgrims and tourists passed in flocks through the huge oak doors of one of the most sacred Christian sites on earth to escape the scorching August sun inside the shaded sanctuary of cool stones and chilly water.

“We are providing water to the pilgrims and tourist for free,” says doorkeeper Jawal Hussein. “It’s not fair. We should not have to pay.”

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Slumped on a small stone bench at the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Hussein reflected on reports that the Jerusalem water company had decided to end a centuries-old tradition and is now demanding the church pay for its water.

Gihon, the public water company in Jerusalem, has also reportedly demanded the church pay its back bill dating to 1967, when Israel assumed control of east Jerusalem and the walled Old City from the Jordanians. According to AsiaNews.it, a Christian news site, the decision would break a tradition honored by both the British and Jordanian rulers who had controlled the site in the past century.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is held by many Christians to be the traditional site of Christ’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection. Its foundations date back to the 4th century and today it is strictly divided among various sects, mainly the Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Armenians, but also Copts, Syrian Orthodox and Ethiopians.

For millennia, it has drawn pilgrims and tourists alike and today many drink cold water from its taps, free of charge. But change is almost unheard of in the ancient church.

The status quo was established in 1852 when the Ottoman Empire controlled Jerusalem. It states that as the sole representative of the Sultan, who ruled the empire, only it shall have any say in the running of the church.



Without any real formal administration, the church became ruled by a “Status Quo” under which the time and spaces of the church are divided according to a strict schedule.

“I’m part of the Status Quo. This will be brought up for discussion by the Status Quo and then we will make a decision,” said an Armenian priest who did not want to be quoted by name.

Today, the power of the representative of the Sultan has been assumed by the Israeli government. But even Israel’s Supreme Court proved to have no authority on church grounds, as was evident when a 1970 ruling to give the Ethiopian church control of two small sanctuaries went unheeded.

In other words, there is no one single administrative unit to which to send the water bill.

A Franciscan monk aiding a group of pilgrims from South Korea through the church paused to contemplate the water bill.

“I have heard about it but I don’t understand why the government wants to discriminate against us,” said the monk, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter. “Are the synagogues and the mosques paying?” “We are doing a favor to the pilgrims and tourists,” he added. “The government must be earning something from [their visit]. We are doing them a favor.”

“But if the synagogues and mosque have to pay, then I guess we have to pay as well,” the monk added.

The Gihon water company issued a statement saying that they have not, “as of this moment,” cut off the water supplies of any religious institution.

It added that it was charging a standard price of about $4 dollars per cubic meter for water from all religious institutions in the Old City, including mosques, synagogues and churches.

“It should be stressed that this is a uniform fee for all,” the statement said.


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