Inside the Middle East
November 14, 2012
Posted: 949 GMT

AFP/Getty Images


It's a story that combines three of the region's most critical issues – it's a dispute in Jerusalem, a dispute between Arabs and Israelis... and a dispute over water. All rolled into one, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the most venerated sites in Christianity, has had its bank accounts frozen over $2.3 million of unpaid water bills, with monks threatening to close the church in protest.

The church receives about a million pilgrims a year and stands at the site where Jesus Christ is believed to have been crucified and buried.

The water bill is backdated fifteen years to the time when a new company took over the supply. For decades the church was exempt from paying water bills until the Israeli water company began pressing it to pay up a few years ago.

Issa Musleh, spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem told the UK newspaper The Guardian: "They have frozen our account. This is a flagrant act against the church."

"The church is completely paralysed. We can't pay for toilet paper. Nothing. [The water company] Hagihon has declared war on us," a Patriarchate official told the Hebrew-language daily Maariv.

In a statement to Maariv, Hagihon said it had been in talks for several years with church representatives with the aim of reaching a settlement of the debt. It was prohibited by the Israeli Water Authority from exempting any party from water charges, and more than 1,000 religious institutions in Jerusalem paid their bills regularly, it added.

According to the English-language daily Haaretz, Greek Orthodox priest Isidoros Fakitsas said that the move has impaired the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to pay bills and salaries including 500 priests and monks, 2,000 teachers and the running costs of over 30 Christian schools that the church runs in the Palestinian territories and Jordan.

As a result, the church is considering closing for a day in protest, shutting the doors to pilgrims for the first time in centuries. The church is seeking international backing.

As with all issues concerning the Holy City, the issue has become politicized within the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“If they want to cut water off then we will ask the pilgrims and visitors to bring their own water with them and we will explain to them what is happening so that they would know about the Israeli arbitrary policies being practiced against the holy places,” Musleh told the Palestinian news agency WAFA.

The church is no stranger to controversy. The most memorable incident is probably the brawl between Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks a few years ago that police had to forcibly break up.

Stay tuned to CNN for more coverage of this story out of Jerusalem.

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Filed under: Israel •Jerusalem •Religion

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IJ   November 14th, 2012 10:28 am ET

Shocking! They actually expect the church to pay their bills like everyone else??

David   November 14th, 2012 10:39 am ET

Pay the damn bill.

the time is now   November 14th, 2012 11:03 am ET

Yes the time is now as God tells me.

Jerry   November 15th, 2012 8:41 pm ET

They expect an exemption because God cannot afford the bill.

samson   November 16th, 2012 12:37 am ET

Well,to my own opinion.i think water should not be what the church in jeruselem should be fighting for.rather let them look deeply into the scripture and know what our lord Jesus Christ has thougt us.this not the time to figth over the things that one day will perish,they should be fighting for there soul that will never die.they have forgotting what our Lord Jesus Christ,said about the latter time' LUKE 21.i say there will not be a perfect peace until the Lord Jesus Christ take his people away.every indidual need to prepare he/her self because the Lord is coming soon::..........;(crying for the lost soul.

Tal   November 16th, 2012 9:56 am ET

Can't g-d give them a better credit line?
Centuries of "taking" (the church I mean) money from others (other nations), now it is time to fork over the bill.

HEIDI   November 17th, 2012 11:33 pm ET

They better pay the water bill like anyone else does! who do they think they are? Jesus said, "what is God is God and Cesar Cesar's" the goverment cleans the water, provides a service, therefore; Church HAS TO PAY FOR SERVICE! SHAME ON THE CHURCH!

HEIDI   November 17th, 2012 11:47 pm ET

the church that owes the water bill wants the goverment to pay the water bill with the money of people who are not members of their church? aaThis would be like my church asking another church to pay our bill ! this is outrageous!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

hasan   November 20th, 2012 12:24 am ET

How does a group of people that where killed,put into gas chambers,raped,branded like cattle and seperated from family would appreciate the second chance they got.the UN gave them land to start a new life and a arsenal of weapons to protect themself.
But they had a diffrent route the land wasnt enough.So they needed the whole country.the palestinians were not the people who herded them to their deaths, matter fact the land that was given to them didnt even belong to them. Now they are no better than The Nazi army that Hitler ran that attacked them with. Now they are doing the same to the paletinians.
The only thing they can say is that they sre terrorist and that they elected a terrorist group to run its people.Isreal and the US gave them a set rules to elect a prime minister with a organized election and so they did.but the out come was not to their standards so they war
Hamas is not a terrorist group. more like a FREEDOM FIGHTER organization. they have no money or support to buy fighter jets tanks or even an army to fight back so they result to kids that grow up that are fed up with rules set on them by a neighboring group of people who think they are God gift to the world and because of what they went threw ,innocent people have to pay .
And what is the reason why everyone is up in Isreal ,what do they have on the world thats makes us blind to the wrong that pours on the streets of PALESTINE.
The day will come when we all will meet are maker no matter what we each call him and he will differentiate us from the beast.
And to those who say this action is justified your are in a world of destruction.

ron   November 21st, 2012 2:40 pm ET

Pay the damn bill.

Hejorleh   November 23rd, 2012 9:40 pm ET

Hey, this isn't the free gift that Jesus talked about. Please pay your bills and don't embarrass pilgrims.

Brian   November 25th, 2012 7:30 pm ET

I do not understand why a water company should be expected to subsidise a religious institution, but not, say, a hospital or school. I begin to understand the financial benefit of saying you believe in some form of god

george humphrey   November 25th, 2012 11:32 pm ET

Why doesn't the Church just use the Holy Water? It appears magically, right? ;-)

d00s   November 26th, 2012 1:55 am ET

so sick of the church thinking it can steal everyones money then complain when they're expected to pay bills.

Lets hope the monks do close it down then we'll have one less super church in the world.

Kaj   November 26th, 2012 7:40 am ET

"[...]monks threatening to close the church in protest"

So, they're threatening to stop being customers of a company they won't pay? In what universe are they expecting that tactic to work?

DD   November 27th, 2012 1:58 am ET

Pay your bill like every other religious organization does.

Jacob Dekovnick   November 28th, 2012 9:07 pm ET

Dude, really just pay your bills like everyone else. your not god, and like all man we pay for any service rendered.

cheepster512   December 2nd, 2012 2:55 pm ET

turn that water into wine and make a profit
wonder why the National socialist didn't think of this? freeze assets than turn off utilities for non payment would have emptied warsaw without a single death someone is acting up

sam   December 3rd, 2012 2:52 pm ET

I think that the Church should pay thee bills. Just because there a Church doesn't give them special rights. I do think though if they don't want to pay then they need to get there own water supply. They don't get it that the company looks at them like there just another customer. The Church were i live pays there bill. Also it is a sin to not pay and think you are higher than everyone else

Prof M H Settelen   December 3rd, 2012 3:28 pm ET

One has to wonder whether we have forgotten that it is the Christian Palestinians who are in the crossfire & in spite of everything maintain under 242 for us the two most important churches in Christendom, one built by Constantine (Holy Sepulchre) the other (Holy Nativity) key to Christmas & now a World Heritage site, saved for us by Lawrence! So, to find that Israel is now confiscating the tax revenue generated by Christian pilgrims to the Holy Sites is totally abhorent & shall not be tolerated! Due to this behaviour & the inability to be a proper Steward, 181 which created Israel must be rescinded.

daliya robson   December 4th, 2012 9:14 pm ET

I would take a look a t the monks and check if they are starving or deprived or of they dont have hidden bank accounts from all the pilgrims they rip off . If they are all destitute give them a break. If they are overfed and pampered let them do their share . Even in the days of Chaucer and before the monks and churches had it good . Let them sell some gold to pay the bills as they must have stocks if it in their basements . They could sell pardons like the Monks of the middle ages of they are broke .I actually think they are still doing it anyway.

togirl   December 5th, 2012 5:25 am ET

pay your bill!! why shouldn;t the church pay for what they use??

Hey Prof Settelen: this church is open to the world, and is not just for the Christian Palestinians. Israel has looked after the holy places of Christians AND Muslims, a hell of a lot better than the Jordanian government did when they had East Jerusalem. Ancient synagogues were destroyed because they were just that: holy to the Jews, therefore not worthy of saving.

They have destroyed other symbols holy to other religions, merely because it did not matter to them. The fact that it was important to others made NOT A WHIT OF DIFFERENCE.

And that is typical and consistent with their behaviour for generations.

JD   December 6th, 2012 9:52 pm ET

I don't understand why the Israeli water Co. making is making a big fuss over the water bill. Even during the Muslim Ottoman time, the Church had its water bills waived.

Dimitar Keremidchiev   December 7th, 2012 4:38 pm ET

If any of you "pay the bill" people have really made the effort to read the article you would have noticed that the sum that is expected to be paid is 2.3 million dollars. This is not the money for the monthly water bill. They are not asking the church just to start paying for water. They are asking the church to pay all the "bills" for many years in the past.
Obviously the church cannot just pay such a large sum! Yes, the church should start paying the monthly water bills according to the relevant regulations. But to expect to pay 2.3 million for previous years is simply outrageous!

Alfredo   December 8th, 2012 2:07 pm ET

There are several synagogues in Greece (Athens, Thessanoliki, Larissa, and elsewhere) all of which pay their water bills. The Greek Orthodox church is the largest owner of prime real estate in Israel. For example, they even own the land on which the Knesset and the Prime Minister's residence are built. This church very wealthy and should certainly pay their water (and other including electriciy) bills.

Susan S   December 9th, 2012 6:03 pm ET if the Church can't afford to pay its bills!

Gb   December 9th, 2012 8:13 pm ET

Rules are the rules.

Naomi Rikman   December 10th, 2012 10:58 am ET

This is a story about what is mine don't need to pay?

Arabs thinks this is they country and that's it!

Every where has.has to pay to service!

Arabs has other rule for them!

We have very beautiful country!

But sometimes is too much!

Jonathan   December 20th, 2012 5:53 pm ET

If EVERYONE is expected to pay their water bill... and other religious institutions are paying their water bills, respectively... how is the church being slighted by having their assets frozen until their bill is paid? The ball is in the church's court. Just pay the bill.

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