Israel's Christian school strike ends, but funding threats remain

Church leaders and Palestinian Christians demonstrating in Jerusalem about funding cuts to Christian schools.Embrace the Middle East

Christian schools in Israel have ended their strike over cuts in government funding after reaching an agreement with the country's education ministry.

The strike has lasted more than a month and was sparked by cuts that Christian leaders said were discriminatory.

Around 33,000 students in 47 schools returned yesterday.

Christian schools in Israel cater mainly for Arab Christian and Muslim students. They receive partial funding from the government, with the rest of their costs met by donations or tuition fees. The Christian leaders say that the cuts to Christian school funding – from 65 per cent to only 34 per cent of their budgets – would force them to raise fees, hitting poorer families.

The education ministry announced said it would allocate a one-off payment of $12.5 million to schools.

"We regard the agreement as a provisional achievement for our schools, given that we received not only one-time financial support but also an agreement to establish a committee to change our legal status, which will enable a long-term solution," the Secretariat of Christian Schools in Israel said in a statement.

However, that long-term solution has not been achieved yet and the agreement with the education ministry also involved a commitment that secondary schools would not strike again until the end of the 2017 school year, while primary schools would not strike again this year.

The schools dispute is also to be seen in the context of wider debates about nationality and identity, according to Jeremy Moodey, chief executive of British charity Embrace the Middle East.

"It is significant that this is only a temporary fix which appears to address the funding problem of Christian schools in Israel until next summer," he told Christian Today.

"The increase in funding was hard won, given that the Israeli Ministry of Education is under an extreme right-wing minister, Naftali Bennett, who initially refused even to talk to the Christian schools. Israel has bought itself some time with a commitment to set up various commissions to investigate a longer-term solution to the financial crisis facing Christian schools, and it remains to be seen if these produce a settlement. "

Moodey concluded: "Many observers think the Israeli government's agenda is still a 'divide and rule' strategy to bring the Christian schools into state control and then force them to dilute their teaching of Palestinian culture and history."