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It's always sunny on West Bank's Sesame Street
Thu Oct 22, 2009 1:35pm EDT
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By Joseph Nasr
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - It's always a sunny day on Sesame Street in the West Bank, where the neighbors are friendly and the muppets never see an Israeli army checkpoint all day long.
The Shara'a Simsim version of the popular television program teaches Palestinian children they can achieve their dream of an independent Palestinian state through tolerance, education and national pride -- and not anti-Israeli violence.
"Our problem is that for so long we've been focusing on resistance and we gave up on other things like culture, education and tolerance," said executive producer Daoud Kuttab.
"I believe that an educated, confident and tolerant society will help us build an independent, peaceful and non-violent state," he added.
The fourth series, which airs on Palestine TV in January and has 52 half-hour episodes, aims to teach Palestinian children -- mainly boys -- non-violent ways of expression, by exposing them to empowered characters who serve as role models.
One such is six-year-old Basel, meaning brave in Arabic, who in one episode is seen brushing his teeth, wearing his clothes and tying his shoelaces alone and then waving a Palestinian flag and declaring: "It's Basel's independence day!"
The show's Palestinian producers chose to make no reference to symbols of the Israeli occupation such as the West Bank barrier and the network of Israeli army checkpoints, which Palestinians say are sources of hardship.
"This is a program for pre-schoolers and we don't need to show them all the things they see too much of anyway, which are the tensions that exist in their daily lives," said Gary Knell, president of Sesame Workshop, which produces Sesame Street.
"This is a way to bring some hope into their lives."
But a special effort was made to expose Palestinian children to other cultures to nurture their sense of tolerance.
"There are no Israelis in the program but we want to teach our kids to accept different peoples," said Kuttab.
GAZA AND BEYOND
Although the program skirts issues related to Israel, it touches on the Gaza Strip and its 1.4 million residents who live under the rule of the Islamist group Hamas and are cut off from the West Bank, which is governed by the rival Fatah party.
In one episode, a Shara'a Simsim character is upset after losing contact with his brother, who lives in Gaza. His friends send a paper plane to the enclave carrying a message asking the brother to get in touch. Contact between the two is restored.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas has its own children's program which has been criticized for urging kids to fight Israel. Continued...
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