Editor’s Note: Resolution C018 Pursue Justice, Peace and Security in the Holy Land, passed at this year’s General Convention, resolved ‘That the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church express its solidarity with and support for Christians in Israel and the Occupied Territories.’ EPF PIN member Randy Heyn-Lamb from the Diocese of Los Angeles lifts up the funding crisis in the Christian schools in Israel and the witness of one Episcopal priest and his congregation. Stay tuned for updates on the EPF Palestine Israel Network Facebook page and for updates on any calls to action.
Nearly a half million Palestinian students in Israel were not going to school this past Monday. According to the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, a strike was planned by Arab schools in Israel in solidarity with the ongoing protest by Christians in Israel over funding cuts and tuition caps imposed by the Ministry of Education.
Forty-five schools administered by the Latin Patriarchate, the Melkite, and Greek Orthodox churches have remained closed since the September 1st school year start. Two Episcopal schools, St. John’s in Haifa, and Christ School in Nazareth, hurt by the same cuts, are also closed, as is the Baptist School in Nazareth. Some 33,000 students and 3,000 teachers are directly affected.
The Jerusalem Post reported more than 3,500 students, parents, teachers and school administrators participated in a rally on Sunday morning in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. The protestors, who claimed more than 8,000 present, and whose numbers included twelve busloads from the town of Shefaram (Shef’Amr) in northern Israel, called for equality in funding with other religious schools, such as the ultra-Orthodox yeshivas of the Shas and United Torah parties affiliated with the government.
Fuad Dagher, the Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Shefaram, rescheduled Sunday morning worship so he and his congregants could join in the Jerusalem protest. “This is about preserving the heritage of Christian education in Israel,” Father Dagher said. “We want to continue the tradition of excellence they offer.”
Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Knesset’s Joint Arab List, noted, “Almost a third of Arab university graduates and a majority of Arab high-tech workers are graduates of the schools the government is trying to paralyze.”
Christian schools are considered “Recognized but Unapproved” by the Israeli Ministry of Education. Until about 6 years ago, the Ministry funded between 60 and 75 percent of the costs of approved independent schools, with parental contributions and fundraising filling the gap. Since that time, the support offered by the Ministry has dropped to a third, and for some schools, less than 30% of their costs. At the same time, the Ministry, now led by MK Naftali Bennett, has placed caps on the amount that schools can charge in tuition.
The reason or such caps may be other than concern for financially-stretched Palestinian parents. Studies by the Follow-Up Committee for Arab Education show that Jewish students receive five times more funding than Arabs – $1,100 each compared to $192.
Earlier this summer, the independent journalist Jonathan Cook wrote in Al-Jazeera, “Israel is seeking to bring dozens of church-run schools under government control; a move that community leaders have warned will curb the last vestiges of educational freedom for the country’s large Palestinian minority.”
Quoting Yousef Jabareen, an Arab Knesset member, Cook reported that unlike the state-run schools, the church-run schools had been relatively free of governmental interference. “In the Arab state schools, Jewish officials appoint the principals, vet the teachers and dictate the curriculum. Christian schools have the flexibility to choose their staff, and teach pupils about their national identity, Palestinian culture and history, and their rights as citizens.”
Negotiations between the Office for Christian Schools in Israel and the Ministry of Education ground to a near-halt over the summer after the Ministry offered to increase school funding by 20 Million Israeli Shekels, a tenth of the 200 Million shekels school administrators feel they are due. Further discussions planned for September 10th have been rescheduled until after a period of mourning following the death of Mr. Bennet’s father.
In the meantime, parents like Fuad Dagher of Shefaram can only tell their children to be patient for the opening day of school.