Patriarch hit by £1.5m water bill

09 November 2012

Thronged: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, last Sunday (CREDIT: CHRISTIAN AID/SARAH MALIAN)

Thronged: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, last Sunday (CREDIT: CHRISTIAN AID/SARAH MALIAN)

CHRISTIAN leaders in the Holy Land have begun a campaign to win international backing for a case that is pitting the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem against the Israeli water company Hagihon over a disputed and unpaid bill.

The bill is enormous: nine million shekels, the equivalent of about £1.5 million. This is the amount, Hagihon says, that is owed for water supplied over the past seven years to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Patriarchate believed that there was a tacit agreement with a former Mayor of Jerusalem that exempted the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from paying for water. Hagihon said that it was unaware of such a deal, and had been in discussion with church authorities for several years on how the outstanding bills might be paid. The company said that it was not permitted to make exemptions for customers, but had, thus far, not cut the supplies to the Church of the Nativity, because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The Patriarchate said that it would be willing to pay bills from now on, but would not be able to settle the outstanding amount. Hagihon has taken legal action to freeze the church's bank account. While there have been suggestions that, in protest, the Patriarchate might close the Church of the Nativity to the public, the holy site was packed as usual this week.

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