Holy Sepulcher May Close Over Unpaid Water Bill

I’ve posted before about legal issues surrounding the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, which most Christians hold to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. The building  is shared among several Christian communions, all of whom accept, more or less, the so-called “Status Quo,” a compilation of rules and customs dating to Ottoman times that governs possession and use of the church. I hadn’t seen this anywhere in the scholarship, but it seems that the Status Quo may also cover payment of the church’s water bill.  According to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which has the greatest share of rights in the church and, apparently, responsibility for utilities, the Status Quo exempts the church from water bills. According to Hagihon, the Israeli utility that supplies the church with water, the Patriarchate is incorrect. Hagihon says Israeli law does not exempt religious organizations from water bills and that the church owes roughly $2 million. Last week, Hagihon obtained a court order freezing the Patriarchate’s bank account until payment is made. The Patriarchate says that, with its bank account frozen, it cannot fund day to day operations and that it will have to close the church.  Cooler heads undoubtedly will prevail, but for the moment there’s an impasse. I don’t know whether any of the other communions have offered to chip in, but the Greek Patriarchate may not want them to do so. Under the Status Quo, paying to maintain any part of the property can be an assertion of the right of possession — and the Patriarchate surely does not want to create a precedent suggesting that other communions have greater rights in the church.

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