Christians close famous Jerusalem church to protest taxes

The leaders of the major Christian sects in Jerusalem closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the traditional site of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection, for several hours Sunday to protest an Israeli tax plan.

Their joint statement decried a ‘‘systematic campaign of abuse’’ against them, comparing it to anti-Jewish laws in Nazi Germany.

The Christians are angry the Jerusalem municipality plans to tax their assets around the city and Parliament may expropriate land sold by the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. The churches, major landowners in the holy city, say that violates a longstanding status quo.

The Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and the Armenian Apostolic leaders said the moves seemed like an attempt to ‘‘weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem.’’

Christians revere the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the site where Jesus was crucified and where his tomb was. Its closing was highly unusual.

The municipality said it would continue to care for the needs of Jerusalem’s Christians and maintain their full freedom of worship. It said the church, like other sacred sites, is exempt from municipal property taxes, and that will not change. But “hotels, halls and businesses cannot be exempt from municipal taxes simply because they are owned by the churches. These are not houses of worship.”

Jerusalem is one of the country’s poorest cities.

Separately, Parliament is pursuing a bill that would appropriate land in Israel sold by churches to anonymous buyers since 2010. The sponsor said these questionable sales have plunged thousands of Jerusalem residents into uncertainty over their living conditions.

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