Palestinian Sesame Street

January 13, 2012 by staff 

Palestinian Sesame Street, Shara’a Simsim’s Kareem held by actor Rajai Sandouka at the programme’s offices in Ramallah.  With its colourful band of Muppets preaching tolerance and neighbourly love, the Palestinian version of the children’s television programme Sesame Street had become a beacon of hope for children in a region ravaged by decades of unrest.

But the cast of peace-loving characters have now found themselves in the crossfire of a political dispute between Palestinian leaders and the US Congress, and episodes have been axed for 2012.

Sesame Street – known as Shara’a Simsim in Arabic – is one of many US-funded Palestinian shows suffering after Congress froze the transfer of nearly £130m to the US Agency for International Development in October. The suspension aimed to punish the Palestinians for appealing to the United Nations for membership.

The funding suspension has affected a broad range of services in Palestine relying on American aid, including hospitals, education, government ministries and communications.

This week, the Ramallah offices of Shara’a Simsim, the writing workshop room was empty and the set was closed.

“If we had funding, we would be writing scripts, we would be reviewing scripts, we would be hiring film-makers to produce the videos,” said executive producer Daoud Kuttab.

The Palestinian show has been put on hold as more than £490,000 has been invested in the Israeli version of the show. The new season has a particular emphasis on teaching children the value of fairness.

Danny Labin, an executive at the Israeli TV channel that co-produces Israeli Sesame Street, called the funding halt to the Palestinian show “extremely unfortunate”.

“Young children, whether Israeli or Palestinian, who are in need of educational tools to foster diversity appreciation and to prepare for life in a pluralistic society, should not be penalised or held accountable to the politics and political leadership, over which they have no control,” Labin said.

Shara’a Simsim debuted in 1996 and has produced five seasons since, with long intermissions for fundraising. It has promoted a message of peace and tolerance that Israeli critics say is often missing from Palestinian airwaves. The main characters Haneen, a red-headed orange puppet, and the green rooster Kareem have became household names for Palestinian children.

Shara’a Simsim is one of about two dozen international shows produced by the Sesame Workshop, the parent company of the American show. Others are aired in Israel, Egypt, Russia and South Africa. In each country, the New York-based Sesame Street staff consults with the local production teams to create a unique cast and content.

From 2008-2011, USAid gave £1.6m to developing the programme in Palestine, covering nearly the entire budget, Kuttab said.

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