The first Russian school will open in Bethlehem on 1 September this year. It will be the first in a series of similar initiatives as Russia tries to rebuild its historic presence in the Holy Land and re-assert its influence in the region.
Authority Mahmoud Abbas and the president of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine
Society (IPPO) Sergei Stepashin discussed the issue recently at a meeting in
Founded in 1882
by Tsar Alexander III, IPPO is Russia's oldest non-governmental organisation, and
the only one that remained active even during Soviet times.
Today, it is the
best example of the close cooperation between Church and state in the defence of
Christians in the Middle East.
Abbas has asked for more schools," Stepashin told reporters, adding "We must
not lose the Middle East".
there were around 100 Russian schools in Bethlehem, he explained, more than 70
were in Lebanon and Syria.
At the turn of
the 20th century, 'Russian Palestine' meant dozens of churches,
hostels, monasteries, schools and hospitals built by the Russians in the Holy
Land for pilgrims and the Arab inhabitants.
Then as now, the
Moscow Patriarchate's definition of "Holy Land" included the
territories currently under the Palestinian National Authority, as well as
Israel, Syria and Lebanon.
In 1964, the
Soviet government sold most of them to Israel for a token sum of US$ 4.5
million. The restitution of Russia's historical properties in the region is now
success so far was the return of the Sergei Podval, or Sergei's
currently being restored by Russia. Slated to reopen in 2015, it will also house
a cultural centre.
could also open in Ramallah and Gaza Strip in the future, Stepashin said. A 450-capacity
Russian secondary school started being built in Jerusalem. More could be built
in Nazareth and Jaffa, where many Russian families live.
In 2013, some
450,000 Russian pilgrims visited Palestine. Before the revolution, the region
was visited annually by around a million people from the Russian Empire.
This spring, IPPO
has plans for several conferences in Beirut and Geneva, Stepashin explained. It also plans to work with the Vatican and
Pope Francis on the issue of the defence of Christians in the Middle East.
For some analysts
with the Carnegie Center in Moscow, attempts to rebuild Russia's presence in
the Holy Land goes hand in glove with Moscow's political strategy of regaining
the influence it had in Soviet times.
In his meeting
with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Abbas expressed hope that Russia would plays
a central role in solving the problems of the Middle East.
happy to see Russia's political success these days, pleased with the huge
political weight Russia has," said Abbas, who listed among Russia's
successes the international conference on Syria, the destruction of Syria's chemical
weapons and the Iranian nuclear deal.