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Israeli-Palestinian Battles Intrude on 'Sesame Street'

Discussion in 'Sesame Worlds' started by monkeymuppet, Jul 30, 2002.

  1. monkeymuppet

    monkeymuppet New Member

    Israeli-Palestinian Battles Intrude on 'Sesame Street'
    By JULIE SALAMON


    Ramallah. Gaza. Jerusalem. Hebron.

    These are the familiar battlegrounds of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now another location has come under siege on the map of desperate contention, a place where the sky is always supposed to be sunny, the air meant to be sweet, and everything is supposed to be A-O.K.: Sesame Street.

    Four years ago that children's television show began broadcasting an Israeli-Palestinian co-production, conceived in the afterglow of the 1993 Oslo accords. The collaboration produced 70 half-hour shows, each one containing Hebrew and Arabic segments that were broadcast to receptive audiences. But under a new co-production agreement, which now includes Jordanians, the project has run into difficulty.

    The name "Sesame Street" has been changed to "Sesame Stories" because the concept of a place where people and puppets from those three groups can mingle freely has become untenable.

    The original shows were built around the notion that Israeli and Palestinian children (as well as puppets) might become friends. Now, reflecting the somber mood in the Middle East, producers see their best hope as helping children to humanize their historic enemies through separate but parallel stories.

    "We've realized that a goal of friendship was beyond realism, given where things are now," said Charlotte Cole, vice president of international research for the Sesame Workshop (formerly the Children's Television Workshop) in New York.

    Other problems involve practicalities. Palestinians no longer go to Tel Aviv to work on the shows as before. The creative back and forth — taking place in meetings near London and in New York and by telephone and e-mail messages — has an eggshell fragility. The utterance of every Muppet is potentially inflammatory.

    The participants cannot agree on when or even if the completed episodes should be broadcast. The Israelis want to show them as soon as they are finished, probably early next year. "We have to find a way to tackle the harsh reality with children, because the grown-ups aren't managing very well to resolve it," said Alona Abt, the Israeli executive producer.

    But her Palestinian counterparts say it would be pointless to broadcast a series promoting tolerance until a peace agreement is signed. "Children in Palestine today will not appreciate, understand, absorb and react in a positive way to the goals we want to accomplish," said Daoud Kuttab, the Palestinian executive producer, whose studio at the public television station in Ramallah, the West Bank town, was damaged by Israeli soldiers. "You're telling them to be tolerant to Israelis when Israeli tanks are outside their homes."

    Yet the production process has kept going, with a sometimes surreal mixture of good will and apprehension. "In the current climate we can only try to humanize and demystify," Dr. Cole said, "to see that other people play in a playground or that they enjoy being with their grandparents. Once you have that level of humanity it's so much harder to hate."

    The project has eight underwriters, all American except for the European Union and the Canadian Kahanoff Foundation, and they have raised $6 million of the $7 million needed to complete 26 shows from each of the three partners. The lead donor is the Charles H. Revson Foundation.

    Travel logistics have become harrowing since Sept. 11 for many of the participants, making them anxious about flying or leaving home. They are constantly on the telephone and sending e-mail messages to discuss plot lines and characters. Recently writers and producers from Israel, Jordan and Palestine gathered at the Sesame Workshop offices in Manhattan to brainstorm. At one face-to-face meeting there, people from the different teams were laughing at one another's jokes during a conference.

    During a lunch break, Jill Gluckson, the supervising producer from Sesame Workshop, nodded toward two Israelis chatting amiably with a Jordanian writer. "This is a roomful of people who desperately want their children to have a different experience," she said. "We could all walk away from this, but then what hope is there?"

    Quixotic? Undeniably, especially in a part of the world where many people consider finding humanity in one's enemies a traitorous idea. But, Dr. Cole asked: "What's the alternative? To risk nothing?"

    Even the first Israeli-Palestinian venture, begun in more hopeful times, required much negotiating, most significantly about the circumstances under which Kipi and Dafi, an Israeli porcupine and monster respectively, would meet Karim and Haneen, a Palestinian rooster and monster. The Israeli puppets could not simply appear in Palestinian territory — too reminiscent of Israeli settlers. They had to be invited.

    Then as now, the participants had practical as well as idealistic motives. For the Palestinians, whose television industry is quite new, the "Sesame" shows have offered an unusual opportunity to learn animation, puppetry and other production skills from the experts at Sesame Workshop. (The Israelis have had their own Hebrew-language version of "Sesame Street," "Rechov Sumsum," since 1982.)

    But idealism is an undeniable factor. In an e-mail interview from Amman, Khaled Haddad, the Jordanian executive producer, said he became involved in the current project because he and his wife were expecting a baby. "I wanted to do something to contribute to peace in this region," he wrote.

    Shari Rosenfeld, project director from Sesame Workshop in New York, is an American who has lived in Israel. During the height of the first Palestinian uprising, or intifada, in 1991, while driving in East Jerusalem, she and her 18-month-old son were hit by stones. The boy was covered in blood and broken glass. For Ms. Rosenfeld, who has worked on both co-productions, the project began as a way to overcome what she calls her "own stereotypes."

    In 1996 she moved with her family to Israel, where she worked with Palestinians on educational materials related to the first joint production. Despite violence in the Middle East, the initial hopefulness carried them through. The shows, called "Rechov SumSum/Shara'a Simsim," which are still being broadcast in Israel, were popular with Israeli and Palestinian children. Research indicated that children who watched them had softened initially hostile attitudes toward the other group, though more significantly among the Israelis.

    Yet it was clear after the current intifada began, in September 2000, that the old model was not going to work. There could be no neutral street on which Israeli and Palestinian puppets would find themselves.

    In the "Sesame Stories" format each of the three participants is producing three or four animated stories meant to illustrate literature and folklore from the region while also carrying messages of respect and understanding. These stories, 13 in all, would be mixed into the separate shows (with the usual "Sesame Street" staples like literacy and numbers) to be shown on Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian stations. None of the animated stories are likely to deal with political issues head on.

    In one Palestinian story, "The Rose," a girl in a refugee camp finds a discarded can on the street and is inspired to plant something in it. Despite naysayers, who tell her you can't grow something in a refugee camp, she waters and nurtures the plant, inspiring others to gather discarded materials to plant a garden.

    At a production meeting, Israelis objected, not to the story's themes of child empowerment and recycling, but to the image of a child picking up a can on the street. "Our children have been taught not to pick up stray objects," one of them explained. "It could be a bomb." After brainstorming with Palestinian and Jordanian partners, the story was changed to make the container a clear water bottle and to show a child taping the rough edges with the help of an adult.

    Jordanians objected to an Israeli story that featured an owl as a protagonist because, they said, in Arab cultures, owls are bad luck.

    "I don't think we have any illusions that this project is going to bring peace to the region," Ms. Rosenfeld, who now lives in New York, said in an interview. "Here we are, the day after the worst suicide bombing in Jerusalem and we have our Israeli team here, our Jordanian team arriving tomorrow, a Palestinian writer coming on Saturday. Do they know if this project will make a difference? They don't know. But they're still engaged."


    Adios,
    ~megan~
  2. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    Hats off to the producers, writers and production people from all sides working on this! The deeply entrenched political problems - though they seem to many outsiders to have little basis in reason or reality - are very real and almost impossible to overcome (as recent world events have shown us).

    It's nice to see people from these three countries working together to try and give their children something they don't have - peace and stability. I hope this makes it to air soon in the Middle East and I think it is a wonderful testament to the legacy of Jim Henson and the positive global influence of Sesame Workshop.

    Thanks for posting this Monkeymuppet - it's always good to get news of the non-Sesame co-productions.
  3. MuppetQuilter

    MuppetQuilter Member

    Ditto everything Buck-Beaver said!

    It is interesting to read about the struggles involved in putting simple stories together. The issue of Israeli children being taught not to pick up objects on the ground because they could be a bomb-- what a frightening world for a child (or an adult). That owls are bad luck-- those are the sorts of details that don't usually get caught before they air. The people working on this are truly dedicated and deserve a great deal of credit and admiration.

    Let's hope it helps!
  4. beaker

    beaker Well-Known Member

    Yes, hats off to the producers coming up to find a creative solution in keeping this project alive. I was really worried about this...I mean dang, both Jewish and Muslim cultures have a lot of beauty to show eachother, and when ya get down to it they have more to offer as people, to learn and share than destroy. Its a travesty the Israeli government and Muslim extremists have virtually made life for everyone in that region virtually impossible to coexist. It'sgood to see such a corrupt Zionist machine and hatred cant put a damper on different nationalities working together. JH' vision rings alive once again in the midst of such chaos.
  5. danniam2188

    danniam2188 New Member

    what they are saying makes sense but i thought the whole point of the original show was to show the kids that it was possible for everoyne to live on the same street. now they are almost saying that peace is unabtainable :-(
  6. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    :cry:

    I was thinking the same thing, but I think we may have a overly simplified understanding of the situation as North Americans.

    By history's standards, here in North America we have been raised (more or less) in a paradise - relative peace, stability and prosperity for a few hundred years. I think one of the reasons 9/11 was such a shocking tradgedy for us was because we have been mostly spared from the awful things that go on elsewhere in the world for so long. We haven't had an open war fought on North American soil for almost two centuries and may never again (God willing). Our daily reality isn't their daily reality.

    The everyday reality for the people involved in this show is that they are living in a warzone. I imagine that people over there may find it difficult to explain to Isreali children that they must accept and befriend Palestinians when terrorists are setting off bombs almost daily. And it's hard to explain to some Palestinians they need to accept and love Isrealis when their lands are occupied and Isreal's government uses missles to execute terrorists in the middle of busy streets. That doesn't mean you shouldn't promote tolerance and understanding of course (just the opposite), but I imagine its almost impossible to do that in the worsening political climate over there.

    I think the real tradgedy here is that the people in the middle east - especially the children - do not want war. They're sick of it. Seems like their leaders are hopelessly addicted to it though.

    I don't think there is any other place that needs a place like Sesame Street more.
  7. Don'tLiveonMoon

    Don'tLiveonMoon New Member

    Wow. What a volatile situation. It's so sad that peace is so far from the reality. I admire the people working on this project so delicately to work with the restrictive situation and still bring some hope to the children of that region.
    Erin
  8. Drtooth

    Drtooth Well-Known Member


    AMEn... when you get down to it, it's all about fighting over who owns a freaking piece of land. I mean, they don't want to share because they theinmk they have the rights to the land on both sides. Then one side sends some wackidoo tied to bomb and kills and injurs hundreds, then the other side sends tanks to blow up the side of the bomber. In retaliation, the other side sends more bombers, and the other side sends more tanks. it's a lose lose situation. i think I saw this Russian animated short that said it best, I don't know the name, because I cannot read their letters. It featured little matches split up into 2 sides while 2 guards guard the boarder. Suddenly, a brick in the boarder pops out slightly, making one side slightly bigger. The other side wants to equal it, but the first side wants the extra, they all call for back up until the whole entire civilization lay in flames...

    it's land... get over it!
  9. Whatever

    Whatever Active Member

    Yay for Sesame Street, but wow. Those poor kids.
  10. fuzzygobo

    fuzzygobo Well-Known Member

    praying for peace

    I really hope that this effort comes to fruition. Just like Fraggle Rock, Sesame Street has always been based on peace, love, understanding, tolerance, and having an open mind and open heart. I pray these lessons can be imparted and these programs will someday see the light of day. In spite of cultural and religious differences, children seem to grasp better than adults, we're more the same than we can ever be different. It's truly a shame that children have to grow up in a world surrounded by hate, violence and fear. Sesame Street made a difference in 1969. It can still make a difference now. Let's hope it does.
  11. Beauregard

    Beauregard Well-Known Member

    Right now, with the whole volitile situation going on there, I was thinking of this show...and I wondered if there was any news on it at all? If it's not insensitive of me to ask.
  12. Ilikemuppets

    Ilikemuppets New Member

    This is truly a most tragic situation. You know when it effect Sesame Street, it's bad. This is the opposite of what SS is trying to accomplish. I'm glad the team over there is trying to work through this issue, as complex as it is.
  13. superboober

    superboober Member

    It's good to know they still intend to try to bend the children's minds to good in spite of complete insanity. While I honestly doubt complete peace will ever come to the region for a sustainable period, if they can help the leaders of tomorrow learn a better way, we might see a little bit of a respite down the road. If they don't try to help, who will?


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