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>JN Oct. 24, 1997, Vol. 5, No. 195
Peace Possible on Palestinian-Israeli Sesame Street
By Patricia Golan (VOA-Jerusalem)
Sesame Street is the longest-running children's television
program in the world. The educational TV show is seen in 130
countries. But there has never been a "Sesame Street" production
like the one now being created in studios in Tel Aviv. Coming at a
low point in relations between Israelis and Palestinians, a joint
production of the show is headed into new territory -- the first
co-production between two past enemies who are still in a state of
The show is intended to promote tolerance and respect for others
while steering clear of politics, but the producers soon
realized that in the Middle East, everything is political.
A scene on an imaginary street with a group of imaginary characters
-- a mostly-Muppet cast with a sprinkling of humans to help guide
the way. Daffy, a purple Hebrew-speaking Muppet with blue
pigtails, is frightened by a sudden power failure. Her friends --
Kareem the Palestinian Muppet rooster; Kippy, the Israeli giant
porcupine, and Amal the Arab-Israeli doctor -- have just left and
are on their way home. But they come back to help her overcome her
The overall emphasis of this production is on mutual respect and
tolerance -- not only between Israelis and Palestinians, but in
the Israeli-produced parts, between Jews and Arabs who are Israeli
citizens, and between secular and religious Jews. The messages
come, of course, in child-size packages.
Although the Palestinians and Israelis are independently producing
their own segments in Arabic and Hebrew, they have coordinated
their productions and work together on those scenes in which the
Israeli and Palestinian characters meet. Just how -- and where --
they would meet was the subject of many heated deliberations.
Lewis Bernstein is executive producer of the series for children's
television workshop in New York, the creators of Sesame Street.
"Originally, we thought there would be three different studio
locations -- an Israeli street, a Palestinian street, and a
neutral setting, a park in which Israeli and Palestinian puppets
and children could meet by chance, because children sometimes do
meet in parks. They don't necessarily play with each other, but
they're near each other.
"The Israelis thought this was a good idea, CTW thought it was a
good idea, and the Palestinians said, uh,uh, there's no such
thing as neutral territory, and that's part of the political
issue of the day. And we said well look, this is a television
production for kids, give us a break, we think that it would be
helpful from a television perspective to have an area that's not
"And after a great deal of debate, we realized that it didn't make
that much sense to the Palestinians, but what made sense was that
Israeli characters and children could visit the Palestinian street
and Palestinian children and characters and children could visit
the Israeli street, and that's how we resolved it."
Daoud Kuttab is executive producer of the Palestinian team. "We
agreed from day one that neither side has the veto power over the
scripts of the other side. We also agreed to be sensitive, to
listen to the other side, to listen to their problems, and correct
anything that hurt their sensitivities, but in the end, neither
side had the veto over the other side's scripts.
"Our principle, that we basically based the whole project on, was
that we insisted that Palestinians be represented as sovereign,
proud people, and Palestinian localities and locations be presented
as such and that Israelis coming to visit the Palestinian street
would be guests to the Palestinians, and not intruders, or people
just showing up without a reason. So that while television is
obviously a fiction and not reality, we felt for it to be
believable and authentic and be credible to children it couldn't be
too far away from reality."
In one of the first "cross-over" segments, Kippy, the giant Israeli
Porcupine gives a big "hello" to Haneen, a furry orange Palestinian
Muppet with a mop of pink hair. "Shalom!" says Kippy. Haneen
shrinks back in fear. But she is coaxed back in Arabic by two
humans -- Amal the Arab-Israeli doctor, and Adel, her Palestinian
cousin. These two human characters -- who both speak Arabic and
Hebrew -- provide the language bridge between the Muppets. Many of
the live-action scenes for the series shot outside the studio are
taken directly from real-life experiences of real-life children.
In both Arabic and Hebrew, these four-minute segments are stories
young children can identify with.
Rehov Sumsum, Shara'a Susum, the first ever co-production between
two past enemies who are still in a state of conflict is scheduled
to air early next year. It will be broadcast on Israeli
television, which can be received in Palestinian areas as well.
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