The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, commonly known to be the site of Jesus’ burial, has reopened following a bitter disagreement with the Israeli government. As Faithwire previously reported, tensions mounted following the Israeli government’s passing of a tax bill that would grant the Israeli government power to confiscate church property. In response, Church leaders from various denominations issued a joint statement immediately closing the building to visitors.
But after Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat suspended the tax plans on Tuesday, it appears that the leaders have had a change of heart. In their new statement, leaders thanked God and offered “gratitude to all those who have worked tirelessly to uphold the Christian presence in Jerusalem.” Gatekeepers at the church were spotted reopening its large wooden doors at about 04:00 local time (02:00 GMT) on Wednesday. Visitors and pilgrims immediately flooded into the holy site, largely thought to be the place of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection.
“After the constructive intervention of the Prime Minister, The Churches look forward to engage with Minister Hanegbi, and with all those who love Jerusalem, to ensure that Our Holy City, where our Christian presence continues to face challenges, remains a place where the three Monotheistic faiths may live and thrive together,” the church leaders said in their statement, as reported by the Times of Israel.
The Prime Minister’s Office has since announced, it would work “with the participation of all relevant parties, to formulate a solution for the issue of municipal taxes on properties owned by churches that are not houses of worship.”
“The team will negotiate with the representatives of the churches to resolve the issue,” it said, adding that “as a result, the Jerusalem Municipality is suspending the collection actions it has taken in recent weeks.”
“Israel is proud to be the only country in the Middle East where Christians and believers of all faiths have full freedom of religion and worship,” the statement from the Prime Minister’s office said. “Israel is home to a flourishing Christian community and welcomes its Christian friends from all over the world.”
Many are hailing it as a strategic move from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“This is a victory. We’re celebrating. Easter is coming and so there were hundreds of visitors who had to pray outside the church for three days,” custodian of the keys to the church, Adeeb Joudeh, told Al Jazeera. “There’s a general feeling of happiness now that prayers inside the church have resumed – it was a beautiful site to see.”
The Jerusalem Municipality said in a statement that it welcomed the renewed effort to resolve the tax issue, according to the Jerusalem Post.
It also stressed that it is utterly “determined to resolve past debts and future tax payments, according to the law, for the sake of the residents of Jerusalem.”