PA Sesame Street sympathy fest misses the point
by Ricki Hollander
A flurry of news articles and broadcasts recently bemoaned an interruption in production of the Palestinian Sesame Street (Shara’a Simsim) children’s television program due to a U.S. congressional hold on USAID funds to the Palestinians.
“Congress makes Elmo cry by defunding Palestinian ‘Sesame Street,’” ran the headline on a Christian Science Monitor column. “Kermit kaput for Palestinian kids in 2012,” lamented CNN. “Muppets soft target of statehood payback,” proclaimed The Australian.
The stories included interviews with educators agonizing over the toll Congress’s decision would take on Palestinian children. On NPR, a Palestinian puppeteer complained that: “Palestinian TV is airing reruns, but kids are getting sick of the same old programming.” On CNN, a Palestinian teacher mourned that, “These kinds of shows, kids really enjoy all the time. And it’s not fair for them. They are only kids.”
CNN, AP, NPR, BBC, Christian Science Monitor, and London’s Telegraph and Times were just some of the many media outlets promoting the accusations and grievances of the Palestinian Authority—namely, that Palestinian children were innocent victims of a U.S. attempt to punish their leader for seeking recognition of statehood at the UN—a “payback,” as some articles put it.
But while this may have been the story the PA wanted Western audiences to hear, it was not the complete one.
Funding for Shara’a Simsim—$2.5 million—comes from a nearly $200 million USAID budget, of which approximately $150 million is currently frozen. The USAID money is in addition to more than $500 million given to the Palestinians by the U.S.—$200 million in direct budgetary assistance, $113 million for security apparatus, and over $230 million to UNRWA.
According to a Nov. 2011 congressional research service report (http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RS22967.pdf), U.S. foreign assistance to the Palestinians is meant to promote certain U.S. policy interests: preventing terrorism against Israel from Hamas and other terrorist groups, preparing the Palestinians for peaceful coexistence and self-governance, and meeting humanitarian needs and preventing destabilization.
The proposal to freeze USAID funds was based not only on the Palestinian Authority’s attempt to obtain legitimacy as an independent state outside the framework of negotiations with Israel, but also on the PA-Hamas consensus agreement—under which the Palestinian leadership embraced a terrorist entity sworn to Israel’s destruction. Both these actions directly oppose the interests U.S. financial aid was meant to foster. But, of course, none of this was discussed in the articles about Elmo’s fate.
What is more disturbing, however, is that none of the media outlets that so poignantly relayed Palestinian television grievances have bothered to cover a much more alarming aspect of Palestinian TV—the denial of Israel’s legitimacy and promotion of terrorism that is a staple of its fare.
Palestinian Media Watch (http://www.palwatch.org), an Israeli research organization, monitors and translates the near-daily programming that undermines coexistence and urges a renewal of terror. For example, PA TV aired a music video honoring Dalal al Mughrabi, the terrorist who masterminded the 1978 Tel Aviv Coastal Road Massacre in which 25 adults and 13 children were killed.
PA leaders applauded a children’s performance of a song with the lyrics, “I shall saturate [Palestine] with my blood, redeem you with my life.” The existence of a Jewish Temple in Israel was called a “lie.” Israel was accused of stealing land in 1948. Jews were referred to as “the descendents of apes and pigs,” and the PA Mufti quoted a hadith (a transmission on the authority of the Prophet Mohammed) calling for the murder of Jews. All these programs were broadcast on PA TV in just the first week of January. And it went from bad to worse.
In a live broadcast of a Fatah anniversary celebration, Palestinians were urged to follow in the footsteps of previous terrorists. In another, a PLO official re-affirmed the “legitimacy” of “all forms of resistance.” And viewers of PA TV watched Palestinian Archbishop Atallah Hanna calling Israel’s existence “illegal and illegitimate” and ruling that coexistence with the Jewish state was “impossible.”
In another broadcast, soon after the sentencing of those responsible for slaughtering the Fogel family in their beds, family members of the murderers praised them as “great heroic prisoners” and glorified their “operation.”
And the incitement goes on. This month, PA TV called for a Palestine without borders that would include Israeli cities. Others accused Israel of being a “treacherous aggressor” and called for “martyr’s blood” in order to achieve Palestinian statehood.
As if all this were not appalling enough, a Hamas children’s TV show routinely urges youngsters to exterminate the Jews. In the past, a Mickey Mouse-like puppet called Farfour called for the destruction of the Jews, before being “martyred” by evil Zionists. A successor of Farfour’s, a stuffed bear named Nassur, more recently called for the Jews to be “erased from our land” through “slaughter.”
Instead of decrying the toll on children forced temporarily to watch Sesame Street re-runs, journalists would do better to cover the persistent assault on Palestinian children’s innocence by inciting them to kill. Perhaps, readers and listeners would then gain a more accurate understanding of the role Palestinian television plays in thwarting the possibility of peace and coexistence.