Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem and Gihon, a Jerusalem-based water company, have reached an agreement concerning an unpaid water bill that totalled NIS 9 million ($2.3 million), after the company legally confiscated the patriarch's bank account.
The conflict, which threatened to lead to an international crisis, began when Gihon demanded that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which the patriarch heads, pay for the water it was using despite a traditional exemption granted to the church before Gihon began supplying the water.
According to the agreement, which was formulated with the help of several government ministries and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, the church's water debt from before 2004 will be considered outdated and cancelled. In addition, government ministries and the Jerusalem municipality will pay the remainder of the debt since 2004, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, through the three churches that manage it on a daily basis — the Greek Orthodox Church, the Franciscan Order and the Armenian Church — will cover the water and sewage payments from 2012 onward.
In recent meetings between Gihon CEO Zohar Yinon and Patriarch Theophilos III, which were mediated by Dr. David Koren, a close adviser of Barkat, it was agreed that the sides would work together more closely in the future and the church would establish a charity fund to help to pay the water bills of destitute city residents.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located within the Christian quarter of the walled Old City of Jerusalem. The site is considered holy as Christians believe it is the place where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and buried.