Christian schools in Israel were reopened on Monday, September 28 ending a strike that began on September 1.
The 47 Israeli Christian primary and secondary schools affiliated with Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches are attended by some 33,000 pupils, the vast majority of them Christians of Arab descent. However, some Muslim families also send their children to these schools because their students’ academic performance is above the national average.
The Christian schools went on strike after the Israeli government reduced the amount of subsidies from 34 percent of the total operating costs two years ago to the current 29 percent. According to the agreement, the Israeli Treasury will now grant a one-time sum of 50 million shekels (approx. 13 million dollars) to the Christian schools for the current school year to cover the loss of income. The schools, however, had asked for 200 million shekels (approx. 57 million dollars).
The Secretariat and the Ministry of Education agreed to establish a commission with representatives from both sides to continue the talks at a later time. Furthermore, the parties agreed that the teachers will be included in the different professional programs offered by the Ministry of Education from which they had previously been excluded.
In addition, the tuition for children in primary schools will be reduced by 25 percent.
“The deal is ‘a starting point’,” says Abdel Masih Fahim from Ramle, a spokesman for the Christian schools. “We need to discuss our matters with the Ministry of Education further. We will ask for the rights of our children. Their parents pay taxes, and we are Israelis. We have the right to be heard.”
Maha Abed, Director of the Collège des Frères in Jaffa, also calls the agreement a first step: “Although the schools did not receive fully what they demanded, it helps that the tuition fees will be lowered 25 percent during the first year.” Looking back on the campaign, she is satisfied with the initial outcome. “This is the first time the whole society understands our situation,” she said. “We did a very big job. We hope that we shall know better how to defend our rights in the future.”
Pastor Hani Belan, Chairman of the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel, said, “The Christian schools were established mainly by Christian missions from outside who had vision for this area to provide the local community with education based on biblical principles such as giving, forgiveness and Christian love.”
He calls upon Christians worldwide to remain faithful to this calling: “Today, these schools—which contributed highly to the society and have produced the best students in the country—are suffering from financial difficulties due to continued cuts from the ministry of education. What are the Western Christian missions going to do about their own vision which was carried out and continued by the local community of Christians? The West can influence the government a lot; Christians worldwide can have an influence over what is happening and can support their brothers in this land.”
Father, we know from Your Word and from our experience that You always hear the cry of Your people and are ready to respond; even when we do not see Your presence in the midst of our turmoil, You are there working on behalf of Your people and Your purposes. Today, Your ready help is evident in the relief You have sent for the Christian schools. Thank You for the ministry of these schools to the Christian community and their testimony before students of other faiths who attend. Sustain them, Father, and continue to give them wisdom, discernment, courage and favor in their negotiations with the government. In the Name of Jesus, who has reconciled to himself all things by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross, Amen.