JERUSALEM (AP) — Christian schools in Israel said Sunday they would end a nearly monthlong strike over cuts in government funding after reaching an agreement with the Education Ministry.
The schools, which mainly cater to Arab Christians and Muslims, have been on strike since the school year began on Sept. 1 to protest the budget cuts, which Christian leaders have said amount to discrimination. Some 33,000 students in 47 schools are to return to class on Monday.
Under Sunday's settlement, the Education Ministry said it would cancel the funding cuts and allocate a one-time payment of roughly $12.5 million to the Christian community in Israel. In addition, the ministry and Christian schools agreed to form a committee to resolve any remaining areas of disagreement by next March. The Secretariat of Christian Schools in Israel, an umbrella group, confirmed the terms.
"By the grace of God and after long negotiations, the Secretariat announces that it has reached a settlement with the Ministry of Education," the secretariat said in a statement. "We see this as a wonderful achievement."
Under a longstanding arrangement, Christian and other private schools that manage their own affairs receive partial government funding, with the remainder of their budgets covered by either donations or tuition. The government funds cover roughly three-quarters of private schools' standard costs, but the state has been cutting back on other supplementary funding.
Critics say the funding cuts amount to discrimination against Israel's Arab minority, which makes up some 20 percent of the population, noting that the government fully funds two large ultra-Orthodox Jewish private school networks. Administrators say the cuts have forced them to raise tuition for students from low-income communities.
In the birthplace of Christianity, Christians are currently less than 2 percent of the population of Israel and the Palestinian territories. There are about 150,000 Christian citizens of Israel and about 50,000 Christians in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
They have not experienced the violent persecution that has decimated Christian communities elsewhere in the region. But Israel's Christians, who mainly identify as Palestinians, say they experience discrimination in areas like housing and employment, and over the decades have sought better opportunities abroad.