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Property tax may be introduced for churches in Israel

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Cities such as Jerusalem, Nazareth and Tel Aviv have called for the “Arnona” municipal tax to be applied to church property, which is currently exempted by seniority.

It is a decision that Christian leaders and patriarchs have described as a “coordinated attack,” as it goes against the status quo. It calls into question the historical agreements whereby Christians have had a tax advantage on their properties—money that is allocated to hospitals, convents or schools.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was informed of the Christian leaders’ response in a joint statement. The signatories include Cardinal Pizzaballa, the Franciscan custodian of the Holy Land and the Greek and Armenian Orthodox Patriarchs.

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This is not the first time this has happened. In 2018, a similar situation took place, and ended with the church of the Holy Sepulchre closing for three days until the Israeli government reversed the decision.

In this new letter, the heads of these churches refer to this earlier experience. They point out that the recent legal proceedings are contrary to the previously reached agreement. Moreover, they accuse the government of wanting to expel Christians from the Holy Land, an area where they make up less than 2 per cent.

If the tax is implemented, the Christian presence in the Middle East would suffer a new blow, since the ongoing crises and wars in the surrounding countries have already encouraged an exodus.

“The motivation, the reason for this exodus is logically related to the political situation in these countries, countries that are now more virtual than real, that do not really have control over the territory where the poverty situation is extreme,” said Cardinal Pizzaballa.

“The issue of poverty is not new but the outlook is very fragile, very weak. They don’t see much confidence in any possible change and so confidence in a possible change is very fragile and this makes emigration very easy.

“It is not only Christians who emigrate. Everyone emigrates. It’s just that Christians are already few and therefore, this makes the Christian presence more and more fragile.”

The exodus of Christians from the Middle East could weaken the position of churches in key places such as the Holy Land. It could also mean another step in the extinction of part of the region’s culture and history.

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