10/22/2004, 00.00
PALESTINE
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Christian TV spreads the Gospel across the Holy Land

Orthodox Christian broadcaster Samir Qumsieh runs al-Mahed (The Nativity), a private TV station that throws a communication  bridge across the divide separating Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Bethlehem (AsiaNews) – Al-Mahed (The Nativity) is unique in Palestinian media. Located near the Church of the Nativity, it is the only Private Christian TV station in Palestine and the Middle East. Every Sunday, it broadcasts the Catholic and Orthodox mass from different churches throughout Palestine. On Tuesday, it is Fr Peter Hanna Madrous's Gospel and Life show. On Friday, it is the Muslim prayer.

Until some of its relay antennas were damaged during armed clashes, its signal could reach Jordan and the West Bank.

Many Christian leaders in the Holy Land have praised the Bethlehem station for its professionalism and service to evangelisation. According to Michel Sabbah, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, "al-Mahed renders a priceless service to the Church by giving its viewers a Christian perspective and offering good programming". For Aristarchos, secretary of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, "by broadcasting the most important Christian ceremonies, al-Mahed is an essential tool to announce the Christian truth."

Al-Mahed and its owner and general manager Samir Qumsieh have faced several challenges, from Israeli incursions in and around Bethlehem to the hassle and harassment of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Despite it all, al-Mahed has managed to stay on the air since 1996.

During the 2002 siege of the Church of the Nativity, it was the only local station to cover the entire event. Four technical staff took turns to cover the six week stand-off 24 hours a day and provided practical information to local residents who were under curfew. Devotion to work was such that one staff member did not attend his brother's funeral after he was killed in the violent confrontation.

In 2000, PA President Yassir Arafat pulled the plug on the station for 20 days and Mr Qumsieh himself spent three days in jail for protesting against the closure of two TV station in Ramallah.  Mr Qumsieh is the dean of the TV Private station Union. In fact, although in theory freedom of the press is guaranteed in Palestine, in practice editors and journalists cannot operate in total liberty. In 2003, al-Mahed condemned  violence against civilians of all the groups (Palestinians and Israeli) strongly supporting peace in the region.

a Jewish settlement, whilst other Palestinian broadcasters did not pick up the story.

Its morning show Morning Path, hosted by journalist Karim Asakra, has a reputation for letting both Palestinians and Israelis speak on any range of issues or news. "Sadly," Asakra acknowledges, "many of our viewers are unhappy to hear the other side, but we persevere and show both sides of the same coin anyway".

Al-Mahed was founded in 1996 by Greek Orthodox Samir Qumsieh. It now employs 33 people and covers the Holy Land's 13 Christian communities. It offers a wide range of programmes from music and children's shows to social, religious and educational productions. It also presents Friday prayers for Muslim worshippers who cannot attend mosque service as well as specials for Ramadan and Islam-inspired TV fiction.

Al-Mahed's founder and owner Samir Qumsieh sees himself as an evangeliser on a mission. "God," he said, "gave me a mission and that is to be the Middle East's only Christian voice. People call us the 'Voice of Christianity'."

Thanks to the station, Mr Qumseih insists, "many Christians—the sick, the elderly, the disabled—can get the spiritual nourishment they would otherwise miss. And Muslims, too, can watch Friday prayers and share them on their holy day."

The small Christian station from Bethlehem has its work cut out for difficulties are aplenty. Palestine's economy has been tittering for a long time and this has reduced advertising revenue cutting into the station's one and only source of financing. It currently has a US$ 63,000 debt on the US$ 800,000 investment Qumesieh and his family made.

"My brothers tell me to stop the waste," Mr Qumesieh admits, "but for me the hardest thing would be to shut the station down because it is something that involves the entire community. If we go off the air, there won't be any other voice like ours."

To know more about al-Mahed TV, click on its website at www.almahedtv.org. (LF)

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