(Photo: Reuters/Ammar Awad)
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the site at which Jesus Christ is said to have been crucified and buried, is facing the danger of being closed down unless administrators can pay a water bill of up to $2.3 million.
"The church is completely paralyzed," said a Greek Orthodox Patriarchate who wished to remain anonymous. "We can't pay for toilet paper. Nothing. Hagihon has declared war on us."
Water provider Hagihon first issued an invoice to the church eight years ago. That was the first time the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was ever billed for water, as before then Jerusalem authorities had a non-privatizes service. The official also said that the church didn't want to have anything more to do with Hagihon, and will be asking the congregation to bring their own bottled water for services.
Times Live noted that the city's Interior Ministry had tried to step in to negotiate a compromise, but talks had been unsuccessful. Dimitri Dilani, the head of the Christian National Coalition in the Holy Land, said that he fears that unless a solution is found to the problem, the church would have no choice but to close down.
"We all pray that it doesn't come down to this but if the Israeli authorities leave no choice than that will happen," Dilani said.
Church leaders have sent letters to Greek Orthodox Patriarchates worldwide, the Vatican, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres, asking them to intervene, he said.
"The ball is in the Israeli court right now," he added, stating that he hopes Prime Minister Netanyahu himself will intervene. Dilani also said that he fears the Israeli government might be trying to gain control of the church for its economic and historical charge, but government officials have denied such an accusation.
"The question is one of an unpaid water bill," Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. He also assured that for now, water will continue to run to the church, and revealed that the government's Water Authority had instructed Hagihon to immediately withdraw the order to block the church's bank account.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is said to have been built in 326 AD by the orders of Roman emperor Constantine, and is one of the earliest Christian sanctuaries.
"We hope that it will be solved soon so as not to disappoint the thousands of tourists and visitors daily at the popular and important site," commented the Tourism Ministry, for which the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the most important attractions.