Holy Land's Only Christian TV Station to Shut Down

The only Christian TV station in the Holy Land will stop its broadcasts at the end of October due to security and financial problems.

The Nativity, "Al Mahed" in Arabic, has been broadcasting since 1996, offering a Christian voice in the Middle East. But the station in Bethlehem will close due to reported death threats, trouble with the Palestinian authorities and overwhelming financial debts, according to Arab Vision.

"Christians have never been allowed much space in the public media of the Arab World; public space is seen as space for Islam," explained Abu Banaat, the international director of the Christian broadcasting ministry Arab Vision.

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"It is sad that the one clear voice for the Gospel on TV in the Palestinian territories is now silenced."

The station broadcasted Christian services, a weekly Christian program, news and entertainment, and even Muslim prayers on Fridays.

For over a year, however, Samir Qumsieh, director and owner of The Nativity, has reportedly been receiving death threats and intimidation. His five siblings have already moved abroad and he is expected to follow them once the station is closed.

"My brothers told me to stop this waste, but for me it would be very hard to close the television station because it is something that involved the whole community," Qumsieh told Catholic news agency AsiaNews.

Qumsieh and his family personally funded the start-up of the station, but the reported annual debt is $63,000, making operation no longer possible.

"If we go off the air, there won't be another voice like ours," Qumsieh added.

Christians in the Middle East are leaving their ancestral land at an alarming rate due to increasing violence and instability.

It is said that the 2,000-year-old Palestinian Christian community made up about 75-80 percent of the population in Bethlehem during the 1940s, but now has dropped to about 12 percent, according to Dr. Justus Weiner, a scholar in residence at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Weiner is one of the world's leading experts on the situation of Palestinian Christians.

Moreover, the overall Christian population of the whole West Bank has declined to about 1.5-1.7 percent of the total population – or "practically at the point of disappearing," Weiner warned during a presentation in Washington this summer.

"The reality is that Christians in the Arab World are evermore dependent on satellite TV, where Christian programs are beamed from the outside," said Arab Vision's Banaat.

"We are eager to continue giving the Christians of the Arab World a place where they can watch Christian programs on a 24 hour daily basis. But the real loss is that Christians in the Arab World are pushed out of the public space in their own land."

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