Sunday, November 04, 2007

Owner cross as Bethlehem's sole soul-saving Christian tv station closed by debt

"If the big churches can't come up with that money, then I'm happy to let this station go straight to hell," said Samir Qumsieh, the Greek Orthodox owner of Nativity TV (Al-Mahed), which was the sole Christian tv station in the Holy Land and stayed on air for 11 years. Based in the little town where Jesus was born, the channel broadcast mostly in Arabic, and both Muslims and Jews would phone in to talk shows. Now debts of $800,000 have brought the station to its knees--and the owner says it does not have a prayer of survival. So much for any aspiring television stars of Bethlehem. However, English-language gospel shows are regularly broadcast on cable stations inside Israel, notably the program featuring American evangelist Creflo Dollar. Qumsieh wishes more dollars would flow his way.

According to the Guardian newspaper, Mr Qumsieh has been an often outspoken advocate for the shrinking Christian community in Bethlehem. He said Christians were leaving the city in large part because of the sharp economic slowdown brought about by the Israeli occupation and the effect of the concrete West Bank wall that runs nearby. Some Christians have also said they feel under pressure from conservative Islamist groups which are on the rise across the Palestinian territories.
"Emigration is our great nightmare," Mr Qumsieh said. He believes the Christian community was likely to shrink drastically within the next two decades and he said he too would now be looking for work abroad. He said his family was typical of Bethlehem's Christians, with four grown-up brothers who live and work abroad.
Unemployment runs as high as 65% in Bethlehem and farmers complain that large areas of their land have been taken up by the West Bank barrier and the several Jewish settlements that have been built nearby. The Christian population of the town of Bethlehem is thought to be around 40% today, down from around 90% in the 1940s.

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