Debts Close Christian TV Station

After 11 years on the air, the only Christian television station in the Holy Land stopped broadcasting today, closing its doors for lack of funding. The owner of the Bethlehem-based The Nativity told AngloFile he will never forgive the Christian world for abandoning his life's work.

"I am not the loser here," The Nativity's founder and director, Samir Qumsieh, said this week. "Our million viewers and the Christian world, they are the losers." Qumsieh, a prominent Christian Palestinian figure, said the station has lost $800,000 and that $140,000 a year would be needed to remain on the air.

"If the big churches can't come up with that money, then I'm happy to let this station go straight to hell," he says. Qumsieh said he tried, without success, to obtain funding from Christian organizations in Israel and abroad to save the station.

Qumsieh said that he and his family had been making up the station's growing shortfall out of their own pockets, but the debt - $63,000 a year, by some reports, had become unmanageable. Numerous financial appeals had not allowed the station to "continue its sacred mission," The Nativity's press release on the closure said.

Muslim persecution

An outspoken critic of Muslim extremism, Qumsieh has tried to use The Nativity as a means to unite and encourage Bethlehem's dwindling Christian minority in the face of what he calls Muslim persecution. Earlier this year, Qumsieh told the media that he believed that 15 years from now there will not be any Christians left in Bethlehem.

According to press reports, for over a year Qumsieh has been subject to intimidation and death threats. His five siblings have already moved abroad, he says, and he will probably follow them after the station closes. "I will go to the U.S. or to the Gulf. I don't think I will stay here for long," he told AngloFile.

Qumsieh stresses, however, that his decision to leave is not the result of pressure from Muslim extremists. "I would never surrender to blackmail. I wish that was the problem, but what killed The Nativity is indifference on the part of Christians, not threats from Muslims."

Population drop

Some experts believe Bethlehem's Christian population has dropped by about 70 percent over the past decades. Dr. Justus Weiner, a world authority on the matter, says the community went from forming 80 percent of the city's population in the 1940s to just 12 percent in the 21st century.

Until yesterday, The Nativity, al-Mahd in Arabic, broadcast Christian programs in English and Arabic to most parts of Jerusalem and the West Bank as well as to Jordan. "We tried building trust and respect among the different religions and communities in the Holy Land, but it's over. That's life," Qumsieh concluded.