For the past month, Israel’s Christian schools were on strike to protest governmental budget restrictions leading to unprecedented support and mobilization of Palestinian Christians. For five years, the Israeli government has reduced funding to Christian schools, and as a result schools have increasingly raised tuition fees. The last budget cut made it impossible for the schools to continue; consequently, they decided to strike until their needs were addressed .
Israel’s Christian schools, consisting of 33,000 students, serve both the Israeli-Palestinian Christian community, and the Israeli-Palestinian Muslim community. This includes Palestinian Evangelicals, many of whom are enrolled as students, and others as staff members. This also includes the Baptist School in Nazareth.
Israeli-Palestinian Evangelicals took part in the strike in a number of ways. Some as parents of students, others as teachers, and others as school leaders who joined the negotiating committee. The strike included mobilizing their cause on different levels.
Locally, many churches held special prayer meetings for the situation. Some took it upon themselves to visit the different demonstration stands, passing out food and drinks as a show of support and solidarity. Others opened their facility to hold children’s programs during the day while parents were at work.
Nationally, the parents and teachers came together and marched in demonstrations in front of the Ministry of Education in Haifa, Nazareth, and Jerusalem. They held banners and signs calling for the government to give them equal rights, the same funding given to Jewish schools. Some passed out flyers at church entrances to inform the many tourists of their struggle.They also shared their struggle with their partners abroad and called on them to exert media and political pressure where possible.
The Evangelical community took an active part in the strike proceedings, and some even skipped church services on Sundays in order to take part with thousands of others in the largest demonstration in front of the government offices in Jerusalem. They were publically present at all levels of engagement in a non-violent and democratic way. Botrus Mansour, who is the General Director of the Baptist School, is part of the Secretariat of Christian Schools taking part in direct negotiations with government officials. This committee has members from various denominations representing their schools’ interests.
The strike ended based on an agreement between the Ministry of Education and the Secretariat of Christian Schools in Israel . If both parties keep their agreement, schools should continue in session until the end of the academic year. This strike was able to temporarily deter discriminatory policies in the educational system. At the same time, the representative committee still has more to do in order to guarantee a lasting solution to their demands.
As I reflect on the events of the past few weeks, I have a few observations.
1.The level of cooperation and solidarity between the schools and society is commendable. Christians from different denominations (Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants) along with Muslims, Jews and Druze worked together to fight for minority rights. For example, some public schools went on a strike in solidarity with the Christian schools’ plight.
2. As Evangelicals, among ourselves, we have had some of our sister-churches abroad voice their solidarity with us, such as the European Baptist Federation and others. What can be done in the future to involve other members of our body locally and internationally?
3. When the Christian community asks for government funding, we make ourselves vulnerable to the Ministry of Education exerting its influence on our curriculum. We want the same rights that Jewish schools have, namely, to educate our children according to our cultural, historical and religious family values. What can we do to overcome this vulnerability and remain integral and influential members and contributors to society?
In conclusion, this political mobilization of the Evangelical Palestinians has the potential to spill over to other areas of injustice within our context. Perhaps this is the time to more deeply examine our role as believers in politics and to choose to maintain momentum by turning our attention to ways we can further our struggle for justice and peace.