Mar Elias' latest challenge is that a related school in Dabourieh has been denied state funding for teachers' salaries since June. Israel's unique system for funding schools was part of Chacour's impulse for building his first high school in Ibillin, as he writes in We Belong to the Land:
Elementary schools in Israel are provided by the government. However, secondary schools, grades nine through twelve, are all private, belonging to local municipalities, synagogues, rabbis or churches. Financial support comes from private donations and from a complicated "quota system" through the Israeli Ministry of Education. Teachers' salaries can usually be paid from government money if a school qualifies for a good quota rating. The school building, furnishings, textbooks, and any extra supplies must be financed privately. By law, students pay no tuition in a secondary school, although there can be fees for special books and tools.
The whole political and social situation of the Jews vis-a-vis the Palestinians is mirrored in Israel's secondary school system. Jewish youngsters have ready access to secondary schools that often are financed through worldwide Jewish support, a municipality or religious organizations. In contrast, Arab Israeli young people, especially those living in the villages, have limited access to secondary schools because there is little outside support.
Certainly no Jewish towns with nine thousand inhabitants would be without secondary schools for long, but no outcry is heard in Israel when Arab Israeli villages have none. In general, Arab villages do not receive the kind of help from the Israeli government that Jewish towns and villages receive, so their municipal resources to provide secondary schools are limited. Furthermore, a Jewish town would be granted a building permit for a secondary school immediately; and Arab village is denied a permit. (pp 130-31).
The United Methodist liason, Janet Lahr Lewis, has sent out this request concerning the teacher salaries which the Israeli government cut off this past June:
Friday, October 30, 2009
Please read the letter below to the Ministry of Education and fax a copy of it to them immediately. A recent Volunteer in Mission team heard about this on a recent visit to Mar Elias Educational Institutions, one of our Advance project. They were upset enough to want to go and protest. I felt that a protest by 13 people would not even be noticed by the government offices so I suggested starting a protest campaign that might have more affect.
After several calls to Bp Chacour to get all the details I composed this letter, had it approved by the team and the bishop, and made it available to the director of the school so that the many international groups who visit could also sign it and send to the Ministry of Education. These fax campaigns usually have more success than others.
As of this writing no funds have been received. The officials continue to lie to the bishop saying “You will have the money tomorrow.” Meanwhile families go without, teachers continue to teach without pay and the amount due has increased to over 9 million shekels (around 3 million dollars!)
I urge you to sign the following letter and fax it immediately to the office of the Minister of Education. The one thing Israeli officials must try to avoid is negative publicity. Knowing that this information has now gone out to the world may prompt them to action.
Thank you for your support.
Janet Lahr Lewis
UM Liaison in Israel and Palestine
Mr. Gideon Sa’ar, Minister of Education
Ministry of Education
34, Shivtei Yisrael Street
Fax: 972 2 560 2223
Dear Mr. Sa’ar,
Recently it has come to our attention by way of supporters of Mar Elias Educational Institutions that a grave injustice is being committed with regards to the suspension of student subsidies used to pay teachers’ salaries at one of the educational facilities inside Israel.
Archbishop Elias Chacour, whose life-long goal has been to provide a good education for children regardless of race or religion, in an atmosphere of peace, respect, and love for one another, has built one of the most successful educational institutions in Israel. These facilities are held up by the international community as an example of how peace and reconciliation is possible in the Middle East. Because of the success of Mar Elias Educational Institutions’ academic and social achievements, the archbishop was approached by a number of people from the village or Dabourieh, including the local authorities, the parents of many students, and a large number of teachers, to help them improve the quality of education for their children.
The archbishop agreed to open a new high school, but not before complying with the government’s requirement of applying for a permit from the Ministry of Education. Applications were submitted repeatedly to which there was no reply whatsoever from the Ministry office. In the meantime, a list of new students was sent to the Ministry of Education. One month before the school was scheduled to open they received the subsidies for the students in order to pay the salaries of the teachers. This action of the payment of subsidies by the Ministry of Education was a concrete step connoting their approval to open the school. Since the Ministry of Education continued to pay all the subsidies for the students of Dabourieh it was then registered as a branch of Mar Elias Educational Institutions (MEEI) with the expectation and understanding that the school in Dabourieh would eventually operate independently.
The second year the school was in operation the Ministry of Education continued to pay the subsidies until June, 2009. Suddenly without any prior notice, the Ministry office froze all the payments for all of Mar Elias Educational Institutions, a situation which continues to this day. The Ministry of Education office thence ordered that MEEI disassociate itself from the school in Dabourieh. The Ministry office also ordered MEEI to stop registering students from Dabourieh as a condition for the Ministry office to reinstate the payment of subsidies for the other Mar Elias institutions. MEEI immediately complied and yet, to this date, the Ministry of Education office has continued, against the advice of its own legal department to illegally withhold funds due to MEEI which currently amount to an excess of 9 million shekels.
This non-payment of subsidies by the Ministry of Education has resulted in over 200 teachers and their families being forced to suffer without income since that date in June, 2009.
As internationals we find this intentional withholding of funds and non-action on the part of the Ministry of Education to be a serious and blatant misuse of power, causing undue suffering of hundreds of people who hold Israeli citizenship. For a country that prides itself on being a democracy, this type of action is considered to be not only discriminatory, but a violation of the internationally recognized Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26 which states: “ (1)Everyone has the right to an education. (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance, and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups…” MEEI has proven to be and is internationally famous for being a successful example of this statement.
Therefore, we strongly request that the Ministry of Education immediately comply with the law and provide all overdue payments of the student subsidies to MEEI and reinstate the regular payments of such, so that the teachers can receive the salaries which they so rightly deserve and to ensure that their families will no longer be forced to suffer from this injustice.