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Christianity's Holiest Site Reopens After Tax Dispute


A general view of the Edicule of the Tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City, Feb. 28, 2018. Picture taken with a fish-eye lens.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher has reopened three days after Christian leaders shut it down in protest over Israeli plans to impose taxes on church-owned real estate.

The Jerusalem Municipality says commercial church properties such as hotels and shops should not be exempt, and it claimed that churches owed the city $180 million in back taxes.

The leaders of the Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches were outraged by the tax plan, charging that Israel was attempting to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem.

Israeli Parliament member Rachel Azaria denies that charge.

Visitors pray inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, traditionally believed by many Christians to be the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ, in Jerusalem, Feb. 28, 2018.
Visitors pray inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, traditionally believed by many Christians to be the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ, in Jerusalem, Feb. 28, 2018.

"I think that we need to make it very, very clear and loud that the churches are very welcome in Jerusalem," Azaria said. "Jerusalem is the city that is holy for the three monotheistic religions and we need to make sure that everyone feels comfortable here."

The Holy Sepulcher is the traditional site of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, and a highlight of every Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Fearing that the closure would harm tourism and Israel's image abroad, the Jerusalem Municipality suspended plans to tax the churches, and the ancient doors of the Holy Sepulcher swung open Wednesday.

An American pilgrim named Laurie breathed a sigh of relief.

"We were very, very heartbroken to think that the church is going to be closed," she said. "It is one of the holiest sites for our religion, and we prayed very hard these last three days that things would change and it would be open for us to be able to go in."

Zach Li Nicholas, who came from Chicago, says it was worth the wait.

"It is exciting because I was really excited to pray at the tomb of Jesus Christ, something that I have not been able to do yet," he said.

Israeli officials and church representatives have agreed to open negotiations to seek a solution to the tax dispute, saying Jews, Muslims and Christians must work together to live in peace.

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