[ACNS] Arab Israeli schools this week joined a “strike” in solidarity with Christian schools in Israel that have remained closed from the start of the new academic year in protest at what the Christian school leaders are describing as discriminatory funding cuts.
Last week, the Most Revd Suheil Dawani, the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, met teachers and staff of the diocese’s Christ’s Episcopal School in Nazareth to welcome them to the start of the new academic year and to introduce the school’s new director general, Archdeacon Samuel Barhoum.
But, while the school’s teachers and staff were present, the school children were absent. The school, along with 46 other Christian schools in the country, has not been able to open following severe cuts to their budget by the Ministry of Education.
Christian schools in the country are “recognized but unofficial”. The diocese says that the education ministry cut the budget for Christian schools by 55 per cent in 2014 and 71 per cent this year.
“The school is unable to operate on 29 per cent of its funds,” the diocese said, as it joined other Christian schools in Israel in strikes that began on 1st September to protest the cuts. “These will not cease until funding is back in place.”
The Jerusalem Post, quoting Jafar Farah, director of the Mossawa Centre, an advocacy organisation for Arab citizens in Israel, said that the around 90 percent of Arab schools in the country have joined the strike in solidarity with the Christian schools, despite pressure from the education ministry to remain open.
Christian schools in Israel do not segregate pupils on denominational or faith basis. Around a third of Arab students go to Christian schools and around half of pupils in Christian schools are Muslim.
Christian schools are amongst the oldest in Israel – with some having histories dating back more than 400 years. The sector also achieves some of the best results of all schools in Israel. The country’s official statistics office show that 69 per cent of pupils at Christian schools enrol in college or university at the end of their studies compared with 61 per cent of schools in the Jewish sector and 50 per cent in the Muslim sector.
The “recognized but unofficial” status of Christian schools means that they are supposed to receive 75 per cent of the funding provided to state schools, and are obligated to teach 75 per cent of the teaching hours taught by state schools.
The education ministry says that there has been no cuts to the Christian schools network in the current academic year or the year before it, and that “they are funded in an equal manner to other recognized but unofficial institutions in the State of Israel,” according to the Jerusalem Post.
But Father Abdul Massih Fahim, director-general of the Christian schools network, told the paper that the ministry’s claim that it is still providing the requisite 75 per cent funding is “technically correct, but only because the ministry has consistently reduced the standard number of allocated teaching hours in the sector from 1.1 hours per student in the 2003-04 school year to 0.66 hours per student for the current year.”
He said that the education ministry had suggested that Christian schools should be turned into state-run schools, with the churches loosing responsibility for them; or for them to become special schools, charging fees of up to ₪7,000 NIS (£1,175 GBP or $1,805 USD) per child per year.
This week, in a joint statement, a number of leading Arab Israeli academics said: “Many of our private schools have existed for decades, long time before the establishment of the state of Israel, and have diligently raised up and taught hundreds of thousands of women and men coming from all sectors and religions comprising the Arab society in Israel.
“These educational institutions have been playing a major role in preparing their distinguished graduates who occupy the highest academic, scientific and social ranks. Therefore, the outstanding contribution of these educational institutions has been effective, with a significant positive impact on the social and economic infrastructure of the state of Israel.”
On their website, the Diocese of Jerusalem says: “Please pray for the staff, teachers and children at Christ’s Episcopal School, Nazareth and for Archdeacon Samuel as he embarks on this important new ministry.”