THE church OF THE Holy Sepulchre had recently closed its doors for three days for the first time in protest to the decision by the Israeli government to tax land and buildings owned by the church not used for religious purposes. In response, Netanyahu announced that they would suspend the plans. Christian leaders had previously claimed the tax plan would have allowed Israel to expropriate church land.

The reversal in policy by Israel has been deemed a positive win for the Christian community in Palestine, however, there have been significantly more honourable opportunities to shut the church in protest.

Why protest now?

Money and profit is the reason why the church decided to close its doors and it can be linked to the religious leaders in Italy and Greece who primarily benefit from the tax exemptions of the church's land.

The exemptions themselves were first derived from the charitable status of the work conducted within the Palestinian community, including provisions for schools and hospitals. However, in recent times the church has diversified away from charitable work and moved onto more commercial areas, such as shops, hostels and restaurants.

They have a significant investment portfolio and a tax on the Church’s land would see profits fall dramatically. An argument would normally be made that the profits then go to the local Palestinian community, but a large proportion of the profits are siphoned off abroad to the religious leaders in Italy and Greece. Israel has occupied Palestinian territory and has slowly annexed more and more land over the decades, yet the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has never once deemed it necessary to protest any violent action towards the Palestinian people.

Whilst there is a need to question Israeli motives, the idea to tax land owned by them that is not used for religious purposes is a good idea, because of the initial tax exemption, this is no longer the charitable work but a commercial business which should rightly face taxes. Israel will find a way to push through these plans as they have only stated they would suspend them, rather than ditch them.

There is legitimate concern that these plans could be used by the Israeli government to seize land from the Palestinian community, but the church shouldn’t hide behind injustice to protect the profits for their leaders away from those very communities they claim to be defending.