ALL Arab schools in Israel remained closed on Monday in solidarity with Christian schools in a dispute with the Israeli government over funding. On Sunday, an estimated 2500 schoolchildren and other protesters demonstrated outside the office of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Christian schools in Israel did not open at the beginning of September for the new academic year in protest, to back their demands for more state funding. About 33,000 students at 48 schools are affected by the action, which is mostly affecting primary schools.
The protesters say that Christian schools are discriminated against because Israel funds large private-school networks for ultra-Orthodox Jews, whereas the budget for those catering for Christians has been cut.
A joint statement issued by the administrators of the 48 schools said that the Education Ministry had “started a systematic campaign against our schools by unilaterally cutting its support from about 45 per cent to 29 per cent of the total cost of a primary school. In the past years this funding gap has been closed with tuition and charitable donations. But new state regulations limit such solutions.”
The headmaster of a primary school in Shefa-Amr, in northern Israel, told reporters that Christian schools were “receiving a very small budget compared to state schools and ultra-Orthodox schools. The authorities prevent us from participating in any of the new reforms, and withhold training for our teachers. We’re asking for help so we can get what we deserve, like the other students in Israel. In the view of the Israeli government, private Christian schools are ‘un- recognised institutions’.”
On Monday, groups representing Arab parents and Arab local authorities in Israel joined the protest. The head of the Arab Parents Association, Fuad Sultani, said: “We declared a strike in all Arab schools to protest the budget cuts, and the inequality and disrespectful treatment of schools in the Christian sector. Because 33,000 [Christian] students have yet to begin the school year, we decided to put half-a-million Arab students on strike as well, as a show of support and solidarity.” Mr Sultani went on to say that it was “time for an Arab ‘educational intifada’.”
Representatives of Christian schools in Israel last week met the Education Minister, Naftali Bennett, in an attempt to find a compromise to end the dispute. Since then, there have been further contacts between the two sides, but so far no agreement on funding has been reached.
About 1.4 million Arabs are Israeli citizens, descendants of the Palestinian families that did not flee when Israel was created in 1948. They constitute about one-fifth of the total population, and have long complained of discrimination at the hands of the Israeli authorities.