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Christian schools in Israel back open after more than a month of strikes over funding cuts

by Aaron James

Teachers walked out after the Israeli government cut the funding of Christian schools from 65 to 34 per cent, with 47 schools affected in total.

Arab Christians and Muslims make up most of the students who attend these schools, which fees outside state funding coming from either tuition payments or donations.

Some have argued the cuts have discriminated against Christians, with the reductions exacerbated by a recent attack by Jewish extremists on a church linked to Jesus' feeding of the 5,000 near Galilee.

Schools reopened their doors after they struck a deal with the Israeli government.

The Education Ministry agreed to make a one-off payment of $12.5 million to them, as well as setting up a committee which would consider changing the legal status of Christian schools in the country so they could receiver greater or complete funding from government.

In return, Christian secondary schools have agreed not to strike until the end of the 2017 school year, with Christian primary schools agreeing not to strike until the end of the 2016 school year.

It is uncertain whether Christian schools in Israel will receive increased funding after the committee's work is finished, and when this conclusion will be.

The Secretariat of Christian Schools in Israel said in a statement: "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."

Jeremy Moody, from Christian charity Embrace the Middle East, told Premier: "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.

"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.

"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."

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