A new law passed by the Hamas government in Gaza banning co-ed schools has left many Christians fearful that their schools are in danger of closure.
The new law, which mandates gender segregation in all schools, also bans men from teaching at girls’ schools. The law will likely force Christian educational institutions to close their doors to Muslim and Christian students alike.
Samer Badra, financial director of the Patriarchate Schools in Palestine, told Al-Akhbar, “Implementing the new education law will force Gaza’s Christian institutions to build new facilities and hire new employees to comply with the articles. That is something that the modest budget of our church-affiliated non-profit educational institutions can not afford.”
Badra stressed that the idea of gender segregation goes against the Patriarchate’s mission to teach students to co-exist and respect the opposite sex.
Badra goes on to mention that the law will have dire consequences for freedom of belief, “straining the relationship between Muslims and Christians, which was not tarnished in any way after the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip.”
Senior Christian clergy are set to meet with Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the deposed government, to reach a solution satisfactory to both parties.
Badra, along with the education ministry, denied the report from Israel Today that alleged Hamas’ education ministry had banned Muslim students from attending Christian schools in Gaza.
Mutassim Minawi, director of public relations at the ministry, said, “What the Israeli newspaper reported is baseless – nothing but pure fabrications and an attempt to create discord between Muslims and Christians.”
As for Christian concerns over the implementation of the new law, he explained: “The ministry did not intend to harm them. We are only an administrative arm that has to abide by the law passed by the Legislative Council.”
He pointed out that education minister Osama al-Muzaini “is not going to implement the law in one swoop and it will not be imposed by force.”
Minawi argued that “the Gaza Strip’s culture is conservative and does not favor gender mixing. The majority of Palestinians in Gaza praised the law and only leftist parties criticized it.”
Samir Zaqout, an activist at the Mezan Center For Human Rights, argued that the law is a violation of parents’ freedom to choose the quality of their children’s education.
“It won’t be clear how the issue of gender segregation will play out until the new semester begins. If the government insists on implementing it, all private schools will close down, whether Christian or otherwise,” he said.