Pilgrims of Ibillin

Pilgrims of Ibillin
Funding for Education

Palestinian citizens of Israel face discrimination when it comes to education funding by the State of Israel. The Mar Elias Schools in Ibillin are working to provide quality education to all children equally, whether they are Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Druze, and it is pressuring Israel to end its unequal treatment of its citizens’ education. Here’s what you need to know and what you can do so that together we can rise up.




Pilgrims of Ibillin was founded as a US-based nonprofit in 1995, to be a friend, supporter, and interpreter of the Mar Elias Educational Institutions in Ibillin, Israel, located in the Galilee region on the Israeli side of the Green Line. The Mar Elias Schools were founded in 1982 by Father Elias Chacour (a three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee) to accomplish two intertwined purposes. The first is to provide a superior academic education for young Palestinian citizens of Israel, girls and boys alike. The second is to provide an educational setting where Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druze would be equally valued, and where nonviolence and creative problem-solving are both practiced and taught.


Once you learn about education funding, we encourage you to consider doing the following:


  • First, if you know of anyone planning a Holy Land pilgrimage, call or write them and urge them to ask that their groups include a stop at the Mar Elias Educational Institutions in Ibillin, Israel. They can meet Abuna Elias Chacour and visit with students or teachers. Write to meeioffice@gmail.com to inquire about appointments for visits.
  • While travel to Israel and Palestine is not feasible for many, it’s also true that tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world visit the Holy Land every year to walk where Jesus walked, but almost none sit down to talk or share a meal with Palestinian Christians. Consider who you know who will travel soon, or who in your church organizes Holy Land tours, and urge them to visit Mar Elias or to meet with Palestinian Christians sometime during their tour.


  • It’s also true that many travel experiences focused on the Palestinian story may concentrate on the West Bank and Gaza, and not take time for deep conversation and learning from the Palestinians of Israel. Advocate for Christian pilgrimages to include visits with the “Living Stones” of Israel as well as those in Palestine.


You can find Pilgrims of Ibillin on their website at http://www.pilgrimsofibillin.org/. Or find it on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pilgrimsofibillin/ or Twitter at https://twitter.com/PilgrimsIbillin.


Many international friends don’t realize that Israel runs separate and unequal school systems for Jewish Israelis and for its Palestinian citizens.  All Israeli schools—Jewish or Arab—receive federal tax support, but the government (public) schools for Israel’s Christians, Muslims, and Druze receive a much lower subsidy than Jewish schools and are generally of inferior quality. Therefore, private Christian schools, some pre-dating the formation of the State of Israel by decades, offer the best education available to Arab students in Israel. Mar Elias is among the best (and largest) of these Christian schools.


The Mar Elias Schools in Ibillin today include 2,700 students (ages 3 through 18) from 45 different villages in the Galilee and several communities near Jerusalem and in the Negev.  Two-thirds of the students are Muslim, most of the rest are Christian, and a small number are Druze. Mar Elias teachers include Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Druze. More than 50% of the students are girls. This school’s diversity and commitment to equal treatment for all make it stand out even among other religious schools for Palestinians within Israel.


Although Christian schools like Mar Elias are private, they are still required to follow the curriculum set by Israel’s Ministry of Education. Graduating seniors need to achieve high grades on the required Israeli matriculation (Bagrut) exams to qualify for an Israeli high school diploma. Almost 90% of Mar Elias graduates achieve this goal – a far higher percentage than the general population in either Jewish or Arab government (public) schools.


Almost all Mar Elias high school graduates also go on to study in universities in Israel and all over the world. They not only excel academically, but Mar Elias graduates stand out as leaders and innovators in their professions and communities.


A challenging issue for the Mar Elias Educational Institutions is that Israel only supports 29% of the funding of the private religious schools run by Christians or Muslims. Government subsidies to non-Jewish religious schools have been reduced drastically over the last decade, to the point that many Christian schools are struggling to survive, even though they charge tuition. In September 2015 all 47 of Israel’s Christian Schools united in a month-long strike, delaying the start of the school year, to call attention to their dire financial situation and to pressure Israel’s government to give equal treatment to ALL students within Israel. The strike ended with only modest success – with promises of a one-time catch-up payment from the government that has yet to be fulfilled.


Mar Elias leaders admit that the school continues to be able to exist as a stellar educational Institution because of international friends who pray for, visit, and financially contribute to the school. Pilgrims of Ibillin is the largest of these international supporters of Mar Elias, providing scholarship funds, building maintenance and renovation funds, and equipment and resources to keep technology and curricula up to date. Scholarship funds are especially crucial, because two-thirds of Mar Elias’ students cannot afford to pay the required tuition, even though it is less than $500 a year for high school and $1,000 a year for grades 1-8.


Pilgrims of Ibillin also helps educate American friends about the situation of Palestinians in Ibillin, the Galilee, and those living in the West Bank, by leading annual “Living Stones Pilgrimages” to meet peace-makers like Abuna Elias Chacour and other amazing leaders in Israel and Palestine.


Lessons from the Strike


In September of 2015, during the Christian School Strike, most families of Mar Elias students strongly supported their school—and teachers, students, and family members attended rallies and prayer events in both Galilee and Jerusalem. However, some students’ families were simply angry that their students had to miss a month of classes, and they removed their students from Mar Elias and enrolled them instead in local government schools.


The strike had some surprising consequences – even though it did not achieve the full financial backing and recognition that schools like Mar Elias had hoped for. One result was that teachers, students, and their families became much more aware of the value of a Mar Elias education – in academics and in teaching moral values. They learned to articulate what makes their school unique and became strong proponents of religious schools in general and Mar Elias in particular. Teachers committed to teaching 6 days a week for the rest of the school year in order to help students make up the lost time – even though it meant extra work for no more pay.


Another unexpected consequence of the strike was that students and teachers informally started study groups using social networks. They carried on spirited online discussions of what was happening and why. English students read essays provided by teachers and discussed them through chat rooms. And a small group of enterprising computer programming students used the strike month to dream up an entry for an international hack-a-thon (programming competition). Their entry ended up taking first prize in all Israel and qualified them to compete at an international level among the best 37 national hack-a-thon winners. The Mar Elias group took 2nd place in the world that year!


A final unexpected consequence of the strike was that some families who had withdrawn their students from Mar Elias because of the strike returned, saying that even though their students didn’t miss the strike time, the education they got elsewhere was not as good.


  • Take a photo of your school, or a shelf of books in your school library. Use a marker or Photoshop to black out 71% of the school/books and share it with the text “We’d miss this much of our education if our school was a Palestinian school in Israel.” Post it in your school library and halls, etc.


  • Or send a book about justice (any book would do, but you could send Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour) to the Ministry of Education and suggest in a note in the cover “Since you find it difficult to do the right thing and fund Palestinian schools properly, I thought you should read this book. You can then add it to a school library somewhere in Israel. It is needed.”


  • Take your school/library photos and photos of your books and inscriptions and post them to social media along with your messages. Include a link to this page of the Kumi Now website along with the hashtags #EducationFunding, #KumiNow, and #Kumi40.


An entreaty from Archbishop Emeritus Elias Chacour:


“You who live in the United States, if you are pro-Israel, on behalf of the Palestinian children I call unto you: give further friendship to Israel. They need your friendship. But stop interpreting that friendship as an automatic antipathy against me, the Palestinian who is paying the bill for what others have done against my beloved Jewish brothers and sisters in the Holocaust and Auschwitz and elsewhere.


And if you have been enlightened enough to take the side of the Palestinians — oh, bless your hearts — take our sides, because for once you will be on the right side, right? But if taking our side would mean to become one-sided against my Jewish brothers and sisters, back up. We do not need such friendship. We need one more common friend. We do not need one more enemy, for God’s sake.”


Archbishop Emeritus Elias Chacour is a three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee born in the Upper Galilee.


Books by, or about, Abuna Elias Chacour:


  • Blood Brothers, published by Baker Books, Foreword by Lynne Hybels and Gabe Lyons, After-word by James Baker III
  • We Belong to the Land: the Story of a Palestinian Israeli who Lives for Peace and Reconciliation, published by University of Notre Dame Press
  • Blessed Are the Peacemakers, by Patricia Griggs, with discussion questions and photos (for middle-school readers and above)



  • DVD/Video: “Building Peace on Desktops,” a 12-minute video, made in 2011 to introduce the Mar Elias Schools and their founder, Abuna Elias Chacour. Available on DVD with English on-screen for viewers with hearing issues.  Also available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3eoQ9stT7HU&t=4s.
  • “Door Bang” from Defense for Children International Palestine: https://youtu.be/da3K3W_kWak




“The Right to Education Under Occupation: A Case Study of the Arab Orphan School, East Jerusalem” from Al-Haq: http://www.alhaq.org/publications/publications-index/item/the-right-to-education-under-occupation

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