Jerusalem (Agenzia Fides) - The Israeli draft bill that aims at confiscating church property in Israel has not been blocked or filed: this bill, which continues its process towards approval, is configured as "a systematic and unprecedented attack against the Christians of the Holy Land", capable of violating "the most basic rights" and undermine "the delicate fabric of relationships" built decades ago between the local Christian communities and the Jewish state. This is what Christian Leaders responsible for the shared management of the Holy Sepulcher write in a letter sent to Benjamin Netanyahu, in which they ask the Israeli premier to "act quickly and decisively to block the bill whose unilateral promotion will force the Churches to respond in the same way". The letter carries the signatures of Theophilos III - Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem -, Nurhan Manougian - Armenian Apostolic Patriarch of Jerusalem - and Father Francesco Patton ofm, Custos of the Holy Land.
The letter of the three Christian leaders seems to highlight the controversy with the Israeli government that at the end of February pushed the local Churches to "shutter" the Holy Sepulcher, closed from Sunday 25th to Tuesday 27th February as a form of protest. At the time, the bill that had provoked the reaction of Christian leaders aimed at guaranteeing the Israeli government the possibility of confiscating those ecclesiastical property that in the past had been rented for long periods - up to 99 years - to the National Jewish Fund, and that in recent times the same ecclesial subjects, to cope with their debts, sold to large private real estate groups. The Israeli Parliament had been working on this bill for some time, which by authorizing the expropriation of these lands by the State of Israel aimed at removing these properties from possible legal disputes, in order to protect the owners of houses and buildings built in the meantime on those lands. In February, the leaders of the local Churches suspended the protests after the Israeli government promised to start negotiations with the ecclesial parties concerned about the controversial issue. Now, the three signatories of the letter to Netanyahu report that they have learned that the bill is about to be submitted to the Ministerial Committee in view of future approval.
Israeli parliamentarian Rachel Azaria, who is responsible for the draft law, responded to the concerns of the Church leaders.
According to Azaria, the bill aims at only protecting residents who live in houses built on land belonging to the Churches, subtracting these properties to possible speculations. The parliamentarian also stressed that the new draft bill aims to offer general safeguards for the protection of small-scale owners of houses on lands potentially subject to legal disputes, without containing specific references to ecclesiastical properties. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 19/6/2018)