Palestinians denounce Jerusalem's move to lift tax exemption on churches and UN properties

Palestinians recently denounced a decision by Israel to lift the tax exemptions imposed on properties in Jerusalem owned by churches and the United Nations, saying the move was an attack on the city.

(REUTERS / Baz Ratner)An Ethiopian monk walks at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, December 27, 2013.

On Sunday, Feb. 4, it was announced by the Jerusalem municipality that it had begun collecting 650 million Israeli new shekels ($188 million) from 887 church and U.N. properties in the city, saying these were not entitled to property tax exemptions. Palestinians criticized the move as something that aimed to rid the occupied city of Arab residents and Christian holy sites, Times of Israel detailed.

"This is a new aggression against our occupied capital, Jerusalem," said the Palestinian Authority government's spokesperson in Ramallah, Yusef Al-Mahmoud. "The decision is designed to further strangulate our people [in Jerusalem] to fulfill the occupation authorities' illusions of displacing them."

In addition, Al-Mahmoud claimed Israel was "consolidating the occupation and settlement" in Jerusalem. He said only the law of the occupation allowed the municipality to collect tax from churches.

PLO Executive Committee member Ahmed Majdalani has urged churches and U.N. agencies to take action against the Jerusalem tax move. He called the decision a "completion" of U.S. President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Palestinian Archbishop Atallah Hanna of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem chimed in and maintained that Israel should not interfere with church affairs. He said they would not cave in to the decision.

For the Catholic Center for Studies and Media's director Rif'at Bader, the timing of the decision seemed suspicious and appeared to have political and not economic motives. He told Arab News that the move came after Jerusalem churches spoke up against Trump's controversial declaration and after they boycotted U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's visit.

Nazareth-based lawyer Botrus Mansour told the publication that Israel ought to treat all faiths the same if it wants to start collecting property taxes. He pointed out that ultra-orthodox Jewish groups are subject to a lot of privileges and tax exemptions.