(PRWEB) July 18, 2013
The Muslim government in the Gaza Strip has issued a decree prohibiting co-educational schools, according to Fr. Peter Vasko, President of the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land (FFHL). The Hamas order threatens five Christian schools and a community of some 3,000 Christians.
Although the Catholic schools in the area are administered by the Latin Patriarch and not the Franciscan Custody, the decree is yet another threat to Christians in the Holy Land already under extreme pressure by both Israeli and Palestinian rule, Vasko added.
“Negotiations are going on between Christian leaders and the Prime Minister in Gaza,” Vasko said, “but as it stands right now, in September of 2013 mixed classes will be banned for students over the age of 10 and the classes will also have to have gender specific teachers."
Vasko quoted Fr Faysal Hijazin, Director General of the Latin Patriarchate Schools in Palestine and Israel in Britain's Catholic Herald as saying that if the ban on co-educational schools is allowed to stand, “they would have no choice but to close them.” The alternative would be to open separate schools for boys and girls and hire separate teachers for both to comply with Islamic law. The cost would be prohibitive, Vasko said, pointing out that, ironically, most of the students attending the schools are Muslim.
The three Catholic schools are the Latin Patriarchate School with 370 students, the Holy Family School with 650 students and the School of the Sisters of the Holy Rosary with about 100.
Travel, education and work for Christians in Israel are severely restricted, Vasko added, pointing out that cities like Bethlehem are completely surrounded by the Israeli security wall making it nearly impossible for Palestinian Christians to go to work, to school, to get medical attention or to attend religious celebrations at the Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.
The Franciscans have been responsible for the Holy Land for more than 800 years, and the FFHL operates more than 14 programs in Israel to help Christians with education, housing and employment opportunities. One could think of the Franciscan presence as a sort of glue that holds things in balance.
"Having to close schools that are there for the very reason not only to educate but to encourage peace and cooperation among the various groups is very counterproductive," say Fr. Vasko.
Fr. Vasko went on to say that the solution is not total integration. He says "There are real differences and there will always remain differences because Muslims have their own identity and history and the same is true for the Christians. The goal is not integration but co-existence - living together with others, so we have to learn that each has their own identity but at the same time building relations - positive relations together - that is the challenge and this recent ruling does not make that easy."
Fr. Vasko also brought up another aspect when he stated "that education through the schools is important but the schools are the connective element within all parts of society." He added that it is through the schools and the relationship with the teachers and the families that needs are addressed. It is the teachers who see the children everyday and they learn to recognize when things are not right.
“The programs are working,” Vasko said, “but closing any Christian schools in the area would be a serious loss.” He said it would be particularly hurtful in the Gaza Strip where only 3,000 Christians live among 1.7 million Muslims.