Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - "We are pleased with today Christian schools are open and officially began the school year. In theory we lost 28 days, actually with the holidays and the Jewish, Christian and Muslim holidays, there were only 15 and we have plenty of time to catch up for lost time". With these words Mgr. Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem, comments to AsiaNews on the signing of the agreement between representatives of the Christian Schools and the Israeli Ministry of Education.
The agreement was "reached between the 10 on Saturday night and midnight Sunday" resolving the standoff and ending the protest of Catholics in the Holy Land. School is now open for the tens of thousands of young people and teachers. "With a little 'patience and staying true to our line - adds the prelate - we got what we needed to start."
It has brought to an end four weeks of protest launched by Catholic schools after the Israeli government cut their funds and expressed a desire to incorporate them into the state-run system. The Church of the Holy Land and European bishops back their struggle. Teachers and students say they are discriminated twice over. State funds cover only 29 per cent of costs. Yet, the authorities have limited how much families can contribute.
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 a few weeks ago.
Under the agreement reached over the weekend the Israeli government agrees to pay a first installment of 50 million shekels for the academic year 2015-2016 (12 million euro, compared with a budget for schools in Israel 50 billion Euros), and the budget cuts in effect since 2013 were overturned.
Students are entitled to full-time education and teachers will be paid for training courses, sick leave and the special permits. The two sides have also agreed on the creation of a commission that will be called upon to settle future disputes, made up of representatives from the Catholic church, the Ministry of Education and Finance. The presidency should go to the Arabic Christian Salim Joubran, Supreme Court Judge, an authoritative and impartial figure.
Commenting to AsiaNews on the reopening of schools, the Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem said that "all of this has been possible thanks to the unity, cooperation and solidarity that has arisen at all levels. Families, mayors, unions, civil society, Arabs and Jews, Christians and Muslims, all have contributed to reaching this goal. This - he added - is the main reason for our satisfaction, because it confirms the bridging role of Christians in society, because it is a source of unity and closeness. "
Among the students who have lived today the first day of school there is an atmosphere of "joy and satisfaction" as well as "the vast majority of families, even if some wanted something more. This year the funds were allocated, now in future the Committee will resolve outstanding disputes. In particular, the question concerning "the status of Christian schools in Israel, so far within a general category, recognized but not public".
Agreement on the Status of catholic schools has been eluded for years. Originally, it should have been signed in the 1990s by the Rabin government, but then the climate (and the executive) changed. "Now the central point - confirms Mgr. Marcuzzo - is the status of the schools, to achieve true equality with the other institutions, most importantly from the economic aspect. "
But the greatest achievement in recent weeks, said the prelate, is through our strikes, demonstrations and leaflets "we achieved recognition of the presence of Christian schools in Israel. Especially among the Jews themselves. And the great declaration of solidarity and sympathy that we received. It is a moral, social and inter-religious achievement, which gives the Church a specific presence and role in Israel "(DS).