Archives: FAQs

What exactly is the Church Tax Issue about?

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat recently declared his intention to collect taxes on church properties in Jerusalem not used specifically as houses of worship. This change would represent a significant shift in the Status Quo. Mayor Barkat claims that the churches owe approximately $186 million USD in back taxes. Collecting back taxes also represents a departure from Israeli legal precedent. Learn more from CMEP’s executive director, Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon when she discussed this issue on Israeli news.

What is the Bill of Church Lands Legislation?

Proposed by Israeli Knesset MK Rachel Azariya, this bill would permit the state to “retroactively expropriate land sold by the churches to private investors since 2010.” Azariya argues that her bill is to protect Israelis whose homes are located on this land; however the Bill of Church Lands allows the State to overturn valid church-property leases and/or sales which constitutes the confiscation of church-owned property, retroactively, on behalf of private parties.

Why is this significant? Shouldn’t everyone pay their taxes?

This law would apply to space owned by churches not exclusively used for worship, including gathering space outside of worship sanctuaries, community centers, schools and other places where social services for the elderly, orphans and other vulnerable populations are provided for little or no cost. This law would also apply to commercial properties owned by the churches. Paying back taxes would place a serious financial strain upon the churches and may cause them to shutter their services, and their doors, completely. In some cases this is actually double taxation, because occupants already pay the same tax.

Although collecting church taxes would surely benefit the Jerusalem municipality and the Israeli government, it is in direct contradiction to the almost 400-year-old Status Quo, and poses a threat to the existence of Christianity in the Holy Land. See this op-ed, co-authored by CMEP’s executive director, Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, for an explanation.

Why is the Status Quo Necessary?

The Status Quo helps maintain the delicate balance of power that has existed in the sharing of Holy sites since 1757 to the present day. Previous versions of the Status Quo date back to as early as 1622. In addition, the Status Quo has been affirmed by every governing authority in the Holy Land since the time of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, through the British Mandate Period, when the West Bank was under Jordanian law. Since 1967, the Status Quo has governed the relationship between the State of Israel and the religious institutions of the Holy Land.

What is the Status Quo?

The Status Quo in the context of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories is a collection of laws, rules and historical traditions that have governed the division of ownership, assuring that people from all faiths have access to their holy sites in Jerusalem, beginning with a decree issued by Ottoman Sultan Osman III in 1757, which preserved the division of ownership and responsibilities of various sites and established an agreement among Christians, Muslims and Jews that nothing was to be changed. Doing so would upset the order of who was responsible for maintaining the religious sites. Subsequent decrees issued in 1852 and 1853 reaffirmed the provisions of the 1757 decrees. A British civil servant, L.G.A. Cust, prepared a document, The Status Quo in the Holy Places, in 1929 that has become the standard text on the subject.

The Status Quo is not a product of domestic legislation of the State of Israel. It is an international obligation expressly accepted by the State of Israel at the time of its creation by the United Nations. To seek to change the Status Quo, Israel must involve the Churches and the international community, i.e., the United Nations and interested international parties such as the Vatican and other Orthodox Patriarchates, among many other stakeholders.

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