07/30/2010, 00.00
ISRAEL
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Israel threatens to cut off water supply to Church of the Holy Sepulchre

by Arieh Cohen
For nearly a century, various governments in the Holy Land gave free water to the basilica and pilgrims as a sign of courtesy. Now the Jerusalem Municipality also wants it to pay for past consumption of water. Confusion and concern among the Christian Churches: we agreement among all the groups who use the water at the Holy Sepulchre.

Tel Aviv (AsiaNews) – The Churches of Jerusalem are perplexed and concerned by the municipal authorities threat to cut off water supplies to the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. Since water supplies were first operational in the area, successive governments have always provided access to the Holy Sepulchre free of charge as a public service to the pilgrims and act of courtesy to the religious, Catholic and non-Catholic, who custody the sanctuary.

So did the British government in the Holy Land (1917-1948), the Jordanian (1948-1967) and so far the Israelis. But now Israeli municipal authorities have stepped up pressure and threats to cut off water supplies unless a tax is paid, not only in future but also for all water supplied since 1967.

The revelations were made to AsiaNews by sources in the Basilica, who prefer not to be identified in the hope that the city authorities will have a change of heart. The curious fact is that the payment requests are directed to a nonexistent entity, "the church of the Holy Sepulchre." An administration that does not exist, since the ancient basilica is governed by a special, internationally recognized, legal regime, known as the "Status quo". The "Status quo" means that the spaces, time, and functions are divided between the Catholic Church, represented by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land and several groups of non-Catholic monks, primarily Greek and Armenian but also to a lesser extent, Copts, Ethiopian and Syrian Orthodox.

An expert of Church-State relations in the Holy Land contacted by AsiaNews, said: "The question of paying for the past use is clearly unfounded, because it was a conscious choice and consistent political of all the successive states that ruled in Jerusalem both de facto and de jure, to offer this courtesy to those who officiate and those visiting the Holy Sepulchre of Our Lord Jesus Christ [and also to many other churches in the past]. As for the future, nobody denies that nowadays the supply of water could be seen as a 'commodity' for which you should always pay a fair price. However, in order for this to be applied to the whole of the Holy Sepulchre, specific agreements must be reached between first among the different users regarding the splitting of costs for the consumption of water in common areas, and then you will have to install separate water metres so that it can be demanded that each group of monks pay for what they consume. In fact it is a rather complex legal and technical transaction, which can be addressed only by mutual agreement and not to the sound of threats and warnings, addressed to nobody in particular”.

With some hesitation, the scholar concludes: "But in the end, is it worthwhile for the Israeli authorities to remove an appreciated courtesy practiced by all other states that have controlled the area? It's likely that whoever had this idea will now have to consult with the Office of the Prime Minister or the Foreign Ministry to reach a more lenient conclusion".

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