Christian leaders close church at Jesus’s burial site in tax dispute

In this file photo taken on April 13, 2014 a general view shows the interior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during the Palm Sunday Easter procession in Jerusalem's Old City on April 13, 2014. (AFP)
Updated 26 February 2018

Christian leaders close church at Jesus’s burial site in tax dispute

JERUSALEM: Christian leaders in Jerusalem closed one of the city’s holiest sites to visitors on Sunday in protest at a proposed new Israeli law that threatens expropriation of church land.
Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian church leaders said the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a popular stop for pilgrims, would remain closed until further notice.
In response, an Israeli Cabinet committee delayed consideration of a draft law that would allow the state to expropriate land in Jerusalem sold by churches to private property companies.
The stated aim of the law is to protect homeowners against the possibility that private companies will not extend their leases on land on which their homes are built.
The churches are major property owners in the city. They say the law would make it harder for them to find buyers for church-owned land — sales that help to cover their operating costs.
“This abhorrent bill ... if approved, would make the expropriation of the lands of churches possible,” said the statement by Theophilos III, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Francesco Patton, the Custos of the Holy Land, and Nourhan Manougian, the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Rachel Azaria, the Knesset member who sponsored the legislation, said she woud delay discussion of the law by a week so that “we could work with the churches” to try to resolve the dispute.
The churches’ protest was also aimed at the recent cancelation by Israel’s Jerusalem municipality of a tax exemption it has granted to church-owned commercial properties in the city.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said it was illogical to expect that church-owned commercial property, including hotels and retail businesses, would continue to enjoy tax-exempt status.
“Let me make it clear: we are not talking about houses of worship, which will still be exempt from property tax, according to law,” he said.
Outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, pilgrims voiced their disappointment at finding its doors shut.
“I am very upset. It’s my first time here and I made a big effort to get here and now I find it closed,” said Marine Domenech from Lille, France.

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed praises Jacinda Ardern and lights up Burj Khalifa to honor New Zealand

Updated 5 min 27 sec ago

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed praises Jacinda Ardern and lights up Burj Khalifa to honor New Zealand

DUBAI: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai, thanked Jacinda Ardern on Friday for her ‘sincere empathy’ following the attack on two New Zealand mosques that killed 50 Muslims.

The world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, was illuminated in a gesture of solidarity with New Zealand and its prime minister.

Ardern has received widespread praise from around the world and in particular from Muslim countries and their leaders for the way she has handled the aftermath of the terrorist attack carried out by a white supremacist.

“New Zealand today fell silent in honor of the mosque attacks' martyrs,” Sheikh Mohammed tweeted. “Thank you PM Jacinda Ardern and New Zealand for your sincere empathy and support that has won the respect of 1.5 billion Muslims after the terrorist attack that shook the Muslim community around the world.”

Ardern led thousands of people in a two minute vigil on Friday as the shocked nation came together to remember those killed in the attack. 

She told those gathered in a park opposite the Al Noor mosque, where 42 people died, that: "New Zealand mourns with you. We are one.”

The prime minister’s response to the killings has been widely admired in helping the country come to terms with the atrocity. In the hours after the shootings she wore a black headscarf and visited members of the Muslim community.

She moved to reassure those caught up in the attacks and hugged survivors at a community center in Christchurch.

“We represent diversity, kindness, compassion,” Ms Ardern said on the day of the attack. “A home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who need it. And those values will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.”

She did not hesitate to describe the killings as a terrorist attack and said she would refuse to say the name of the killer who carried it out.

But she has also acted quickly with legislation. Her government banned on Thursday the sales of semi-automatic weapons.

“Ardern’s performance has been extraordinary - and I believe she will be strongly lauded for it both domestically and internationally,” political commentator Bryce Edwards of Victoria University in Wellington told Reuters.

Social media has been flooded with messages of admiration for Ardern, with many using her as an example for their own politicians to follow.