Monday, Nov. 09, 2009

Promoting Peace Through Puppetry

Easing hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians is a challenge that has been taken on by diplomats, politicians and even PBS. Sesame Street's famous lessons of neighborly love and acceptance seemed a logical fit for the youngsters of the Middle East, where children often bear witness to more violent messages. Three adaptations of the program were developed in 1996 for Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian children, respectively — each with story lines that promoted cultural diversity, tolerance and peaceful means of expression. Though the long-simmering conflict was never directly referenced, producers focused on friendly interactions between the Israeli and Palestinian Muppets. But the Sesame Workshop ran into similar roadblocks to those encountered by others attempting to facilitate peace in the region. After the second Palestinian intifadeh, Sesame's Palestinian producers were no longer permitted to travel to Tel Aviv to work on the show, and in 2002, executives admitted that "a goal of friendship was beyond realism" and canceled the show. A Palestinian spin-off aimed at imbuing the same lessons, titled Shara'a SimSim, is set to debut in January.