Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Hundreds of parents and their children demonstrated outside the homes of Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to protest government budget cuts targeting Israel’s Christian schools.
The protesters are not alone. Church leaders in the Holy Land are also involved in the fight to protect Christian rights and identity, which only Christian schools and education can guarantee.
Speaking to AsiaNews, Fr Abdel Massih Fahim, a Franciscan priest in charge of Christian schools under the Custody of the Holy Land, sees some “small signals" coming from the authorities.
The latter might indicate some willingness to "discuss the main points." However, "without an agreement in principle we cannot reopen our schools." For the past "two years we have heard only words."
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 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.
"We have gathered in two groups in front of the homes of the ministers of Education and Finance,” Fr Fahim said. “We have given them an apple and honey, as well expressed best wishes for the [Jewish] Good Year on behalf of 33,000 students who have not yet started school."
"Many other shows of solidarity have taken place”. A demonstration in support of Christian schools was held in the northern Arab town of Umm al-Fahm, even though there are no Christian schools in the town itself.
So far, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Education minister have not officially responded to Catholic demands.
"For institutions that are hundreds of years old, we demand autonomy and equality," Fr Fahim said. It is hard to understand why they should change. We shall close high schools” if there is no deal.
“We need a concrete solution so that our children and their families can exercise the right to an education,” he added.
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.