Al-Mahed (the Nativity) is the only TV station in Palestine and the Arab world that transmits Christian Masses, services, and a weekly Christian program called "Gospel and Life," of Catholic priest and biblicist Peter Hanna Madrous. On Fridays it broadcasts Muslim prayers.
The station is located near the Church of the Nativity. Until some of its relay antennas were damaged during armed clashes, Al-Mahed's signal could reach Jordan and the West Bank, reported AsiaNews.
Many Christian leaders in the Holy Land have praised the Bethlehem station for its professionalism and service to evangelization.
According to Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem, "Al-Mahed renders a priceless service to the Church by giving its viewers a Christian perspective and offering good programming."
Aristarchos, secretary of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, said that "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, Greek Orthodox Samir Qumsieh, have faced several challenges, ranging from Israeli incursions in and around Bethlehem, to harassment by the Palestinian Authority. Yet, 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, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat pulled the plug on the station for 20 days and Qumsieh himself spent three days in jail for protesting against the closure of two TV station in Ramallah.
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 -- and strongly supported peace in the region.
Its "Morning Path" show, hosted by journalist Karim Asakra, has a reputation for letting both Palestinians and Israelis speak on any range of issues or news.
"Sadly," Asakra acknowledged, "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 now employs 33 people and covers the Holy Land's 13 Christian communities. It offers a range of programs 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 Qumsieh sees himself as an evangelizer 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, Qumsieh 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 station faces financial difficulties. Palestine's weakened economy has reduced advertising revenue, cutting into the station's lone source of financing. It now has a $63,000 debt on the $800,000 investment Qumsieh and his family made.
"My brothers tell me to stop the waste," Qumsieh 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."