09/18/2015, 00.00
ISRAEL
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Catholic schools: Europe’s bishops stand with Holy Land Church in fight for the freedom of education

In the concluding CCEE plenary message, the prelates point out that among the "fundamental" rights, is those of parents to educate their children according to their "own convictions". And the state (Israel) must ensure equal treatment. Catholic schoolgirl from Haifa: unequal treatment. English teacher: I am a citizen like all others.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – The "fundamental" rights of every individual include the right to "educate one’s children according to one’s own belief”. In the context of the situation in Israel, in order for this freedom to become a reality  Catholic schools must be able pursue their educational task, for the benefit of all of society, with all the means to support it." This is the main point stressed by European bishops, in the concluding message of the Plenary Assembly of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE), held this year in the Holy Land from September 11 to 16.

The Church of the Old Continent wanted to show its solidarity for students, parents who for the past two weeks have been protesting against the cut in funding for Catholic schools. “The European bishops reaffirm this innate right in the Holy Land, too, and are supportive of the pastors and families concerned about the education of their own children".

Israel’s Christian schools have been on strike since the start of the month. State funds cover only 29 per cent of costs. Yet, the authorities have limited how much families can contribute. In the end, Christian schools cannot meet their annual costs and might have to close. . The parents and students’ battle is supported by the Church of the Holy Land.

The discrimination is even more blatant when Christian schools are compared to their Ultra-Orthodox counterpart. The latter are 100 per cent funded by the state and their curriculum is not subject to Education Ministry inspections.

Pope Francis and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin discussed the issue when they met for the first time at the Vatican.

The ongoing negotiations to resolve the dispute have failed so far, with schools asking for $ 50 million to open and the government willing to hand out  only five. Christian leaders confirm their refusal to integrate into the state system, thus losing their identity and their mission in society.

"Our schools do not receive the same treatment as other private schools," says the 16 year old Ayoub May, a Catholic from Haifa. Young refers to ultra-Orthodox institutions Hinuch Atzmai affiliated to the United Torah Judaism and Ma'ayan Hahinuch Hatorani linked to Shas. English teacher Reem Abunassar, adds that at the root there is a problem of justice and equal treatment: "We are not immigrants, we are citizens like any other and we pay taxes."

Israel has 47 Christian schools with some 33,000 pupils - 60 per cent of them Christian and 40 per cent Muslim with few Jews. The staff stands at about 3,000, including Muslims and Jews.

Until two years ago, Christian schools received 65 percent of their budget from the state, but that was cut to 34 per cent and is now at 29 per cent, which is not sufficient to cover costs.

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