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Israel’s Christian Students Demonstrate Against Cuts in School Budgets

08 Sep 2015 – By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) — As Israeli students began their second week of classes on 6 September, thousands of students and teachers from Christian schools converged in front of the Israeli prime minister’s office to protest government budget cuts to their schools.

Chanting slogans, waving banners and signs, and pounding on metal barriers, high school students who have not yet started classes, took the front row in the demonstration. They called on Education Minister Naftali Bennett to provide funding for their schools on par with religious Jewish non-state schools, which receive full funding although they are not subject to the Ministry of Education inspection and many do not teach the core curriculum.

“This is my last year of high school, and we need to start studying for the matriculation exams. I was looking forward to it,” said Siwar Tarrabeh, 17, who attends the Mar Elias School in the Galilee village of Ibillin. “And here we are instead, having to fight for funding. It’s not fair.”

“We also need to be in school,” said Suha Zababeh, 10, who attends Terra Sancta School in the central Israeli city of Ramleh and came to the protest with her mother and 12-year-old brother. “We need to be equal and get the budget we deserve. I’d rather be in school with all my friends than out here in this demonstration in this heat.”

There has been no progress in negotiations with the government, despite the church schools’ continuing protests, said Franciscan Father Abdel Masih Fahim, president of the committee of Catholic schools.

“We are not here to beg for favors, but to demand our rights,” he said.

Educators on the Christian schools committee have said they have withstood prodding by the Education Ministry for the schools to become part of Israel’s officially recognized school system. Such a move would mean losing the schools’ Christian identity, ethos and the ability to teach Christian values, say the educators.

“The substance of our protest is justice, democracy and equality,” said Auxiliary Bishop Giacinto Boulos Marcuzzo of Jerusalem, who was among the several church leaders who attended the demonstration in Jerusalem. “We are not treated the same as the other schools. We deserve and have the right to be treated in the same way as all the other schools in Israel. How can you speak of democracy when 33,000 students can’t follow their schools in proper way? How can you speak of freedom and human rights when you have the best schools, the oldest schools in Israel, who cannot go ahead with their mission in a proper way because the ministry of education does not give us what we deserve, what we have the right for.”

On 7 September, the students from the Arab state schools also joined the protest and stayed home from school in solidarity with the Christians schools. Demonstrations were planned in other cities, including Nazareth, and organizers said they would continue to protest until the funding is returned.

The Ministry of Education denies charges of cutting the budget for Christian schools.

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Tags: Israel Education Holy Land Christians