09/07/2015, 00.00
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Catholic schools continue strike against plans to reduce their autonomy

Fr Abdel Massih Fahim, who is in charge of Israel’s Catholic schools, talked to AsiaNews about their fight against government cutbacks. At 29 per cent of costs, state funds are not enough. Although a meeting is scheduled for 9 September, there is little hope for a breakthrough since the authorities have not come up with any proposal. Hence, the strike is set to continue.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – "We will continue the strike until our rights are recognised. We are faced with a plan aimed at Catholic schools, but our mission will continue. We faced other crises in the past, this will pass sooner or later,” said Abdel Massih Fahim, a Franciscan priest and head of Catholic schools in Israel, who spoke to AsiaNews about the fight against the Israeli government.

Church and government representatives are set to meet on Wednesday. “Let us hope that it will bear fruit,” said the clergyman, “because we don’t want to launch an ‘intifada’ to defend our right to an education.”

Israel’s 47 Christian schools have been on strike for the past few days. Teachers and students complain that they are discriminated. Currently, the state funds only 29 per cent of costs.

At the same time, the authorities have limited how much families have to contribute. This way, Christian schools cannot meet their annual costs and might have to close.

Discrimination is blatant when compared to Ultra-Orthodox schools, which are funded only by the state and are not subject to Education Ministry inspections of their curriculum.

The issue was discussed last week when Pope Francis and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin met for the first time at the Vatican.

Some 33,000 pupils - 60 per cent of them Christian and 40 per cent Muslim with few Jews – attend Catholic schools. The staff number around 3,000, which includes Muslims and Jews.

Until two years ago, Christian schools received 65 percent of their budgets from the state, but that was cut to 34 per cent and is now at 29 per cent.

“We have not seen any real change,” Fr Fahim said. “We talked to the Education Ministry to no avail. We asked them to come up with a firm proposal for Wednesday’s meeting but so far we’ve seen nothing.”

Because of the situation, “33,000 students are staying home despite a government announcement that everyone was in class on the first day of school,” he noted.

Over the past few years, the government has started to treat Christian schools differently, “denying us our rights more and more. We spoke to the various Education ministers, some of whom did not even bother to listen to us.” Now, with the strike, "they are starting to pay attention, although no solution has been found."

For the Franciscan priest, the government wants “to change the schools’ status, from Catholic to public schools, so that the Church no longer chooses the principal and the teachers, or dispose of the building as it please."

"We want to defend our way of teaching," Fr Fahim explained, "because they offer an excellent education in the country. If the government acknowledges this, it should guarantee our right to be treated equally under the law and not simply tolerated. Although we are a minority, we have our rights and want to defend them."

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