Sesame Street returns to Israel and the Palestinian territories:
As with the popular U.S. program — designed to enhance basic educational content for youngsters — producers tailored the Mideast casts and story lines to the fit the audiences.
“Rechov Sumsum,” the Israeli version, features a Muppet of Arab origin for the first time. Arab puppets have been used in other versions of the show elsewhere around the world.
New human actors on the Israeli version include Jewish immigrants from Russia and Ethiopia, communities that have faced ill treatment from some veteran Israelis.
The Palestinian counterpart, “Shara’a Simsim,” seeks to offer positive role models to boys in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“It’s really about respect and tolerance,” said Gary Knell, president of Sesame Workshop, the New York-based nonprofit group behind Sesame Street programming worldwide. “We know that television teaches — the question is, ‘What does it teach?’”
For a sample of what television actually teaches in the Middle East, check out the indispensable MEMRI tv blog.
So, if Sesame Street is returning to the area, what exactly happend to the first incarnation of Sesame Street Israel/Palestine? It seems the Sesame Street message of tolerance didn’t catch on:
In the later 1980′s Rechov Sumsum began to include a Palestinian component to show the diversity of life within Israel. This program included two parallel streets called (Israeli side) Rechov Sumsum and (Palestinian side)Shara’a Simsim. The two cultures interacted in segments called crossover segments. The show continued to air on IETV and also aired on Al Quds Educational TV in the West Bank and Gaza.
After the Second Intifada, it was no longer realistic to show the two cultures interacting on parallel streets. Thus, Sesame Workshop and their co-production teams in the Middle East decided to air an animated show called Sesame Stories. This show included animated tales from each culture aimed at teaching respect and understanding. The show also included live action films showing children from both cultures in their every day lives. Sippuray Simsim in Hebrew and Hikayat Simsim in Arabic aired in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories in 2003 and 2004.
Due to the unending violence, Sesame Workshop is currently producing separate coproductions in Jordan (called Hikkayt Simsim), Palestine (Shara’a Simsim) and Israel (Rechov Sumsum). The shows are not currently collaborating but they do all still promote values of respect and understanding.
It’s hard to believe that Sesame Street is going to do much good when even the muppets hate each other.