Christian schools empty in Israel for first day of school due to strike

(terrasanta) – The 2015-2016 school year started this morning, 1st September, for over 2 million Israeli schoolchildren and more than 166,000 teachers. Many threats of strikes at local or national level hung over the day, but they were almost all withdrawn at the very last moment.

The doors stayed closed only for the 33,000 pupils of the Christian schools. The reasons for the strike are explained in a statement released yesterday by the Office of Christian Schools.

This extreme form of protest underlines the malaise which for some time has been felt by those responsible for Christian schools, who are unhappy about the decisions of the Israeli Ministry of Education about their schools. This malaise was not even quelled by a year and a half of discussion with members of the Parliament and executives of the ministry and first time ever public demonstration in protest on 24th May before the Ministry.

A last cycle of talks opened under good auspices on 24th August in Jerusalem. The President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, had encouraged them and had gathered around a table in his official residence a Christian delegation, chaired by the bishop Giacinto Boulos Marcuzzo, and the leading figures of the Ministry for Education, including the minister Neftali Bennet. In the end, however, the difference between the opposing positions could not be reconciled.

The Christian schools belong to religious congregations or to other church bodies, such as the local dioceses of the various confessions, and for centuries have offered a solid education above all, but not only, to Arab citizens, both Christian and Muslim. The Israeli government considers them “unofficial but recognized” institutions and for decades has contributed to supporting them with public funds.

For the past five years however, the funds have been reduced: they are now less than half and cover only 29% of the budget of a cycle of primary education. In addition, the teachers of the primary schools – according to the statement of 31st August – are not allowed to take part in the professional refresher courses offered to teachers in the state schools and therefore they are gradually losing ground with respect to their colleagues.

Recently the ministry has also established a maximum limit for the fees that Christian schools can ask families for. These are all decisions that, lined up one after the other, are interpreted as “an attack on our schools.”

The ministry proposed a new category for Christians: their schools become “official” from “unofficial”. The offer was rejected, as was that of becoming “special schools”, a category which would have forced increasing the fees. Those responsible for the schools reject this perspective in full in order not to exclude potential pupils. Their request is for the ministry to ensure an amount of funding similar to that given to other schools in their category.