09/03/2015, 00.00
VATICAN - ISRAEL
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Pope Francis meets Israeli President Reuven Rivlin: "cordial talks"

by Joshua Lapide
Audience focuses on situation in the Middle East; still nascent Bilateral Agreement; the resumption of direct talks between Israel and Palestine; Christian schools. For days now these schools in Israel are on strike because the government has reduced subsidies and blocked the increases in fees. Ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools are subsidized in full.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Pope Francis today received in audience the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, on his first official visit to the Vatican. Rivlin was elected in June 2014, succeeding Shimon Peres, who had invited the Pope to the Holy Land a month earlier.

According to the statement issued by the Holy See Press Office, " During the cordial discussions the Parties focused on the political and social situation in the Middle East, affected by several conflicts, with special attention to the condition of Christians and other minority groups”.

Another theme is "the need and urgency of promoting a climate of trust between Israelis and Palestinians was highlighted, alongside the resumption of direct negotiations with the aim of reaching an agreement respecting the legitimate aspirations of the two Populations, as a fundamental contribution to peace and stability in the Region". Dialogue between Israel and Palestine stalled years ago due to the continuous increase of Jewish settlements on land illegally occupied or seized from Palestinian owners.

Days ago there was a demonstration against new settlements in Beit Jala, involving the Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah.

The Pope and Reuvlin, continues the statement, stressed the importance of interreligious dialogue and "the responsibility of religious leaders in promoting reconciliation and peace." In this regard, in recent weeks, Israel arrested some young people from a yeshiva, suspected of having burned the house of a Palestinian (where a 4 year old) and were part of the arson attack on the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha.

The Press Office notes that the two leaders “expressed their hope that the bilateral Agreement currently being drafted be concluded promptly." The Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and Israel was launched in 1993, but has not yet been ratified as a full bilateral agreement because of certain issues regarding the properties of the Holy Places, the Upper Room and the taxation of charitable works.

The meeting between the pontiff and Rivlin also touched on "the situation of the Christian Schools in the country." For several days the Christian schools in Israel have been on strike. Professors and students denounce a double discrimination against Christian institutions: the government has reduced subsidies which now account for only 29% of the costs; at the same time, the government sets a limit on the fees that schools can receive from families. In this way, several schools are no longer able to meet the annual costs and are likely to close.

This is a blatant discrimination when you compare what happens with the ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools, which are entirely subsidized by the government and do not undergo inspections by the Ministry of Education, although they are not in good standing  regarding their curriculum.

Rivlin gave the Pope a reproduction of a star with the inscription "House of David" in Aramaic, which dates from the ninth century BC; the Pope  gifted the President a bronze medal depicting two parts joined together by an olive branch.

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