Holy water, privatisation, deprivation

israel sells palestinian water back to the owners - or does it?

Taxing non-existent water.

Here’s a weird story.

“Priests at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which is held to be the site of the Crucifixion and the empty tomb of Jesus Christ, are threatening to close one of Christendom’s holiest sites after a water company froze the bank account of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate over millions of pounds in unpaid water bills.”[1]

Holy places in Jerusalem have traditionally been exempt of taxes and municipal charges, even following the forcible annexation of the Old City by the Israelis in 1969.

Until 1996

Traditionally and historically, holy places in Jerusalem were exempt from local taxes and other charges – a  policy that was confirmed in 1969, even after Israel “annexed”, i.e., captured, the Old City that year.

Within the continued agreement of the so-called “Status Quo”, Christian places of worship were allowed to operate with near autonomy – as observed and respected by the Ottomans, the British Mandate, Jordanian and Israeli governments.


Even when Israel captured the Old City, it continued that tradition of exemption until 1996, when a privatisation of Jerusalem’s water supply and its transfer from the Israeli municipality to Hagihon Inc., followed. Eight years later…


“In 2004, Hagihon sent the church a bill for 3.7 million shekels – the equivalent of nearly £500,000 at the time. The church, thinking it was a mistake, ignored it. Earlier this year, Hagihon returned with a revised  demand for nine million shekels – about £1.5m – that included water supplies for the past seven years, plus interest on the unpaid debt.”


The two sides began protracted negotiations, but, according to reports, even though they had seemed to be nearing agreement, Hagihon suddenly enforced a court order last week to freeze the patriarchate’s central bank account.

“We were in the middle of negotiations and we committed to start to pay from now on,” the Greek* [Aristarchos of Constantina, the general-secretary of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate] archbishop said. “We said we were willing to pay but it was very difficult for us to meet previous debts for which there was no agreement. We asked that the nine million shekels of old debts be deleted.”

“But despite the fact that we were in negotiations, Hagihon applied to freeze the account of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. This was an arbitrary measure since we were negotiating. They should have waited to come to an agreement,” he added.

Meanwhile, what about all the Palestinians and water?

While the Church may, justifiably,  complain about tax-exemption on water and broken agreements, what about ordinary Palestinians living in the West Bank?

I have worked in Palestine (in this specific case, it was in 1995) and, while conducting a journalism course with the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC), I was shocked to discover – in a TV interview I supervised, with the then-Mayor of Ramallah – that their municipal sources of water (natural springs) had been unilaterally piped-off by the Israelis. Some of that water was then directed back to the city, at a huge surcharge to local (i.e., local, Palestinian) consumers. As far as I’m aware, that sort of situation continues, a tale that seems to be vindicated, even today.[2]

The peace process? – ho, ho! This is only one of the myriad ways the Israeli state continues to harass, molest, denigrate and subjugate Palestinian nationals (and its own Palestinian citizens) – all supported through the ‘blind eye’ of the miserably myopic West, which concerns itself with the “only democratic state in the middle East” and profitable armament sales. Ho, ho, once again!

PS: I’ll return, one day, to some other, personal reminiscences about that period – and the way absolutely nothing has changed since the 90s… except for some recent gems, like the eventual admission that Israel assassinated Arafat’s deputy, back in 1988…[2]

[1]: The Independent

[2]: BBC Online

Image source (and current water story)

[1]: The Independent   http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/unholy-row-erupts-over-church-of-the-holy-sepulchres-water-bill-8277828.html

[2]: The

Image source: Berthold Werner/Wikipedia


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