Sacred Jerusalem church closed in dispute with Israeli authorities

A fight over money has erupted at one of Christianity’s most holy sites.

The doors of Jerusalem’s sacred Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which hosts thousands each day and is revered as the place where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected, were closed for a second day Monday over a dispute regarding Israeli tax law and a proposed property measure.

The Jerusalem municipality has been trying to collect taxes on church properties in the city and claims various churches owe it more than $185 million on certain properties that have been used for commercial purposes.

During a news conference in front of the church, leaders of multiple churches said that Israel was waging a “systematic campaign against the churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land, in flagrant violation of the status quo.”

However, the site’s closure is also a response to proposed legislation—which the Israeli parliament has agreed to hold off on for now—that could block the churches from making commercial deals with investors on land they leased long term to the Israel government nearly 70 years ago, according to the Washington Post.

Several years ago, the Post reported, it was revealed that the land where the church sits, which is also home to hundreds of residential apartment blocks, was sold in million-dollar commercial deals to private developers.

The proposed legislation aims to prevent that from happening again and to confiscate lands that were sold.

“This is not about religion; this is about money,” Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, a member of the Jerusalem City Council who helped draft the legislation, told the Post. “The church is trying to profit in the millions on the backs of thousands of Jerusalem residents who might lose their homes.”

FILE PHOTO: Members of the Catholic clergy hold candles during a procession at the traditional Washing of the Feet ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City during Holy Week April 2, 2015. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo - RC1BF4D6E9C0

Members of the Catholic clergy hold candles during a procession at the traditional Washing of the Feet ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City during Holy Week April 2, 2015.  (Reuters)

Most of the Christians who live in Jerusalem, the rest of Israel and the West Bank are of Palestinian heritage.  

Yahoo! News reports that church officials said Monday it was not clear when it would reopen, depending on discussions with Christian leaders and Israeli authorities.

“We closed the church for specific reasons and for an unlimited period of time,” one church official said on condition of anonymity, reports Yahoo! News.

The incidents comes at a tense time for the region—with Palestinians voicing their opposition to President Trump’s decision to have the U.S. Embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in time for Israel's 70th anniversary.

Meanwhile, tourists hoping to visit had to make other plans. 

"We were told it's political. It is disheartening -- it is such a holy place," Aleana Doughty, a 35-year-old dental hygienist visiting with a group from the United States, told Yahoo! News.