It’s hard to believe but the burial place and site of the crucifixion of Jesus may have to close after two thousand years of operating as a church – because of an unpaid water bill. The church, on which all Templar places of worship were modeled, thought it had an agreement with the Israeli authorities not to pay water bills. For decades, it’s certainly true the Holy Sepulchre paid nothing for its water until a private company called Hagihon took over Jerusalem‘s water supply in the late 1990s. It then sent a hefty bill to the church.
The Holy Sepulchre thought the bill had been sent in error and ignored it. There were no further demands so life went on. That is until a bill for an eye watering 9m shekel (£1.5m or US$2.5m) turned up and the church’s bank account was frozen. Hagihon had decided to back date its bill demands for the last 15 years and insisted on payment in full.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate has organized the various religious groups that manage different parts of the Holy Sepulchre into a fight back on this. But in the meantime, electricity, internet and even food is not being provided to staff and clerics. Patriarch Theophilos III has now threatened to shut the church down.
Hagihon, for its part, claims that the Israeli Water Authority does not allow it to exempt any religious bodies and that other holy sites pay their bills on time. However, for those of a more conspiratorial frame of mind, it can all start to look like yet another attempt to assert Israeli dominance over Arab/Palestinian Christians.
For my part, I visited the Holy Sepulchre this year and it’s an incredible experience. The church is right in the hard of East Jerusalem with its mainly Arab population. It would be hard to deny that there’s not something of a siege mentality given recent history. Though nothing compared to the tense atmosphere I found in Bethlehem on the West Bank. So I leave it to followers of this blog to decide if they wish to support the church in any way and spread the bad news.
- Jerusalem church in row over bill (bbc.co.uk)
- Unholy row erupts over Church of the Holy Sepulchre’s water bill (independent.co.uk)
- Church of Holy Sepulchre bank account frozen over £1.5m water bill (guardian.co.uk)