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Church-run schools in Israel face "death sentence"

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Reprinted from AlJazeera

Community leaders fear that Netanyahu's party is seeking to curb educational opportunities for the Palestinian minority

The church-run schools are attended by about 33,000 children - some five percent of the Palestinian school-age population
The church-run schools are attended by about 33,000 children - some five percent of the Palestinian school-age population
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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.

Most of the 47 schools, which are among the highest-achieving in Israel, were established by Christian orders more than 100 years ago, before Israel's creation in 1948.

Today, they are among the few independent schools catering to Israel's community of 1.5 million Palestinian citizens, who make up one-fifth of the population. The schools are attended by about 33,000 children -- some 5 percent of the Palestinian school-age population -- and employ 3,000 teachers.

Israel segregates the country's education system based on ethnicity.

Palestinian leaders say the church-run schools, which educate Christians and Muslims, are the only hope for most families trying to escape dire conditions in the government-run Arab education system.

Yousef Jabareen, an Arab member of the Knesset, said that unlike the state schools, the church schools had been relatively free of governmental interference that was designed to create "an atmosphere of intimidation and fear."

"In the Arab state schools, Jewish officials appoint the principals, vet the teachers and dictate the curriculum," he said. "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. All that is under threat now."

Jabareen added that the new development indicated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new right-wing coalition was seeking to strengthen its political control over the Palestinian minority.

Naftali Bennett, leader of the settler party Jewish Home, was recently appointed education minister.

Subsidies slashed

Fahim Abdelmasih, principal of the Terra Santa school in Ramle and spokesman for the church-run schools, said the 47 schools faced a "death sentence" after the education ministry announced last year that it had slashed their long-standing subsidies.

Negotiations with the government recently broke down after education officials suggested that the schools come under government control as a solution.

Traditionally, Israel has funded between 60 and 75 percent of the costs of approved independent schools, with parental contributions and fundraising filling the gap.

However, the church schools now receive no more than 45 percent of their running costs, Abdelmasih said.

"The schools just can't survive after those kinds of cuts," he said.

Education officials have also capped payments from parents whose children attend the schools, effectively barring them from making up the shortfall.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)

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