(Guardian) - The only Christian television station in the Holy Land has closed after 11 years because of a lack of funding.
Nativity television, or al-Mahed as it was known in Arabic, broadcast a mix of church services, films and discussion programmes 24 hours a day from a small studio in Bethlehem, not far from the Church of the Nativity.
Samir Qumsieh, the Greek Orthodox owner and director of the channel, said it had lost around $800,000, half of which were his own personal debts. "I have hundreds of letters thanking me and gratitude shields thanking us from all the churches but nobody translated this into financial support," he said. The station closed yesterday.
"I reached the point where I couldn't continue any more," he said.
The channel broadcast mostly in Arabic, and Mr Qumsieh said he sometimes had Muslims and Jews phoning in to talk on discussion programmes.
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.