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12 Nov, 2012 11:18

World’s most revered church seeks international backing in $2.3mln water bill standoff

Jerusalem’s Church of Holy Sepulchre called on world leaders to help end what it calls an existentially “aggressive move” – Jerusalem’s water supply company has demanded it pay an overdue $2.3 million water bill.

The Christian denominations that jointly manage the church, including the Greek Orthodox, Franciscan and Armenian, have begun a campaign to win support in their battle with Hagihon, Jersualem’s water supply company.They recently sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netenyahu and President Shimon Perez calling for “an end to this aggressive move”.Similar letters have been sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the prime ministers of Greece and Cyprus, King Abdullah of Jordan and US President Barack Obama.The dispute has also angered the Muslim Brotherhood. A statement released on the group’s official English-language website on Saturday condemned the “Zionist occupation authorities’ intransigence towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.”The water bill in question is to the tune of 9 million sheqels – roughly $2.3 million – for the church’s water supply over the last 7 years.The church’s owners, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, claim they have always been exempt from water utility costs.Hagihon is adamant that the church pay its bill, and the water company has successfully managed to have Church’s bank account frozen."The church is completely paralyzed. We can't pay for toilet paper. Nothing. Hagihon has declared war on us," a Patriarchate official told Israeli newspaper Maariv.Hagihon is prohibited by the Israeli Water Authority from exempting any party from water charges, and more than 1,000 religious institutions in Jerusalem pay their bills regularly.Jerusalem authorities have never demanded payments from the Church in the past. After the city privatized its water supply in the 1990s, however, Hagihon had the option of pressing the issue.In 2004, Hagihon sent a water-consumption bill to the church for 3.7 million shekels ($946,500). According to the Guardian, Church officials mistook it for a clerical mistake and ignored the bill, and Hagihon never pressed for payment until now.The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate has refused to negotiate with Hagihon, and could even close the Church for the first time in centuries in protest over the dispute.