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”.