Jerusalem (AFP) - Christian schools in Israel stayed shut Tuesday, delaying the start of the new academic year, in a funding dispute with authorities in the Jewish state.
The strike action affects around 33,000 pupils, mostly Muslim Israeli Arabs, at 47 schools run primarily by the Roman Catholic church.
"All the schools are closed after a call for an open-ended strike," said the spokesman for Christian schools in Israel, Botrus Mansour.
Christian schools and Israeli authorities have been in tough talks over state funding for them and their 3,000 employees.
"For a year and a half, we have been holding talks with the Israeli authorities and several figures have intervened, even the Vatican," said Mansour.
"A week ago, President Reuven Rivlin and Education Minister Naftali Bennett made very positive comments ... But we still haven't seen any serious proposal.
"We've tried everything and have no option left but to go on strike," he said.
Traditionally, the schools received 65 percent of their budgets from the state, with parents paying the balance.
But that figure was cut to 34 percent two years ago, sharply increasing the amount parents had to come up with.
Current state financing covers only "29 percent of the overall cost of a primary school," the schools said in a statement.
"It is a matter of equality," according to Father Abdelmassih Fahim, director of schools for the Catholic church's Custody of the Holy Land.
"A Jewish Israeli child has the right to 100 percent (of school costs covered by the state) while our schools don't, while our teaching is among the best in Israel."