Vicar of Jerusalem: Christian Schools without funds, Israel not respecting agreements

The Ministry of Education has not paid 50 million shekels promised at the beginning of school year. The government wants to merge the schools into the public system, which would rob them of their Christian vocation and multicultural identity. Msgr. Marcuzzo announces an international mobilization campaign.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - The Israeli Ministry of Education "has not kept faith with the agreement" and did not pay the Holy Land’s Christian schools the agreed sum of necessary finds. They promised "50 million shekels per year", half "in the first three months," and half "in the following", but so far "nothing has been honored" and "we are now at the end of the school year".

Bewilderment and disappointment haunt the words of Msgr. Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem, as he confirms to AsiaNews that the government has withheld the funds needed for the survival of Christian institutions. The agreement was reached at the end of a tough battle fought last September against the Israeli Ministry of Education cuts, which delayed the beginning of the school year.

The agreement also provided for the creation of a bilateral commission, called to investigate and resolve "outstanding issues" between the schools and ministry. However, continues the prelate, after months of work and "despite the many proposals that we have made, thanks to the commendable work of a Jewish lawyer," the other party has declared that "there are no solutions, no steps forward."

Last September Christian schools protested for four weeks, by postponing the start of the school year, against the cutting of funds and the nationalization of the institutions unilaterally decided by Israel. Teachers and students reported double discrimination: the government had reduced subsidies to cover only 29% of the costs; at the same time, it had placed a limit on fees that schools can seek from families.

The Church of the Holy Land and the European bishops have supported the struggle of parents and pupils.

Depending on the subsequent agreement, the Israeli government had pledged to pay a first installment of 50 million shekels for the school year 2015-2016 (12 million euro, compared with a budget for schools in Israel 11.5 billion ), also cutting the budget in force since 2013. The students were given the right to full-time teachers and who would be paid for further training, sick leave and special permits. The two sides have also agreed on the creation of a commission, called to settle future disputes.

"They repeat always the same thing - says Mgr. Marcuzzo - insisting that Christian schools come within the public system. For us it would not be a problem, provided we do not lose our identity and the particularity of the schools, which would otherwise lose the meaning for their existence".

The 47 Christian institutions account for about 33 thousand pupils Christians, Muslims, Druze and Jews from all over the country. In recent years, the government has been gradually and persistently reducing state funding and suggesting their integration within the public sector; a solution that would eliminate the independence and the values ​​of the same schools. The ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools, which have the same status as their Catholic counterparts, receive full funding from the Government and enjoy complete autonomy.

However, the government "has not made any new proposal" and this says the prelate, “has alarmed us. As a result we want to launch an information campaign and garner a national and international mobilization. We wrote to the embassies in Israel, the Secretariat of State in the Vatican, we want Israel to explain this lack of agreed funding. It is a very serious matter. "

Msgr. Marcuzzo reports that the leaders of the Church of the Holy Land - the patriarch, the bishops, the Episcopal Conference - have repeatedly requested a meeting with the prime minister, who has never responded. A partial opening came from the president, who met with Catholic leaders but to no avail.

"Now we want to raise public awareness – concludes the patriarchal vicar – and publicize the story as much as possible. We hope to involve Catholics and associations in the United States, that perhaps will put pressure on the Israeli government. In the meantime, however, our schools and our students continue to suffer and the risk of closure looms”. (DS)