Gaza (AsiaNews) - Catholic schools in the Gaza Strip risk closure. The Hamas government is implementing legislation to prevent the presence of "non-Islamic" schools in their territory and those that do not conform to the rules, such as the strict separation between the sexes, will be closed.
At present, there are three Catholic schools in the Gaza Strip: the school of the Latin Patriarchate, with approximately 370 students; a school run by the Sisters of the Holy Family, with 650 pupils; and the school of the Sisters of the Holy Rosary with about 100 boys.
Most of the students are Muslim. The new law adopted by Hamas authorities will come into effect in September, at the start of the new school year.
In recent weeks, Mgr Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, has expressed more than once a desire to discuss the issue with Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of Gaza. However, for now no talks are in sight.
Interviewed by AsiaNews, Mgr William Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem, said that the territory of Gaza is undergoing rapid Islamisation.
"Hamas Islamists want to control education and divide schools with pupils over ten years of age according to sexes."
The prelate said that the Church had found a solution to the problem by dividing pupils between boys and girls, with the first in the back of the classroom. However, the government rejected any alternative solution, and now wants to segregate teachers as well.
According to Mgr Shomali, this step has stopped the establishment of three other Catholic institutions that had been in the planning for several years. To comply with the legislation would have meant spending several thousand dollars more, money the local church does not have.
"Now," he said, "we have two alternatives: either try to put pressure on the Hamas government to water down the legislation, or close our schools, handing them over to Gaza authorities."
"The schools are highly appreciated by Muslims who, thanks to the education offered, can see their children go to university," the bishop said.
"However, the government does not support our plans. Indeed, it puts up obstacles. At the end of the year, our schools, which are mostly free, are always in debt." (S.C.)