The New York Times‘ Magazine feature “Can the Muppets Make Friends in on the West Bank?” (October 4) has to be read to be disbelieved. It’s a textbook case of not seeing the forest for the trees, or in this case one particularly unrepresentative tree. The 4,845-word article by Samantha M. Shapiro — identified as a contributing writer for the magazine who frequently reports from the Middle East — misleads readers about the toxic nature of Palestinian television for children.
“Can the Muppets Make Friends in On the West Bank?” avoids the real story — 16 years of anti-Israel incitement, based largely on distortion and outright falsehood, aimed at Palestinian Arab children by both the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority broadcasting and the Hamas-run Al-Quds channel. By ignoring it, The New York Times does not have to mention that such incitement violates the 1993 Israeli-Palestine Liberation Organization Declaration of Principles and subsequent Oslo process agreements. The Times Magazine article also casts the Israelis as an ever-present heavy, usually lurking just off-stage. And it omits Palestinian responsibility for many of the difficulties the program it reports on, “Shara’a Simsim,” the Palestinian “Sesame Street,” attempts to deal with.
1) The writer inverts the reality of Palestinian television’s dominant children’s programming with references such as:
“… [T]he longest-running children’s program is a slow-moving talk show hosted by a young woman who sometimes reads storybooks aloud into the camera ….”
On the Hamas channel, the “most famous (and infamous children’s program … Palestinian girls, and several animal characters teach ideological lessons ….” These include “how the Danes are infidels who should be killed. Occasionally an animal character will die as a martyr for Palestine.”
Palestinian Media Watch (www.pmw.org.il) has chronicled the coverage, including:
* The March 21, 2007 Hamas TV segment in which a four-year-old girl vows to be a suicide terrorist. The dramatization depicts the daughter of “suicide bomber Reem Riyashi singing to her dead mother and vowing to follow in her footsteps. The video clip ends as the little girl picks up sticks of explosives from her mother’s drawer.”
2) Shapiro uses more Orwellian language choices to soft-pedal the reality of Palestinian rejection of coexistence with Israel and hostility toward the United States:
* Of “Shara’a Simsim’s” producer, Daoud Kuttab, she writes that “he felt that trying to recreate the let’s-get-along diversity of the American show was the wrong approach for the Middle East. The idyllic images of racial harmony on ‘Sesame Street’ may have helped African-American children feel more a part of American culture, he said, but that tactic wasn’t useful in the context of a two-state solution.”
Shapiro neglects to ask why it would not be useful, or essential to encourage “harmony” if two states, democratic and at peace, are to co-exist in the 45-mile wide territory between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea.
* Shapiro says “the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000 and the tumult that followed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, convinced everyone involved with the production that it no longer made sense to try to create segments featuring Israeli and Palestinian characters interacting?”
Why not? Because the second intifada, which the writer doesn’t define, was the Palestinians’ terror war against Israel in rejection of the Israeli-U.S. offer of a two-state solution in exchange for peace? Because Palestinian Arabs cheered al Qaeda’s destruction of the World Trade Center and attack on the Pentagon, in which approximately 3,000 people were murdered? The New York Times article doesn’t say.
3) Minutely detailing the problems of program writers and technicians scripting and filming segments, Shapiro periodically refers to “the concrete boundary that the Israeli government began constructing in 2002 to separate Israel and some settlements from the Palestinian territories” or to “the jarring image of Israel’s cement separation barrier.”
Never mind that for more than 90 percent of its length, the security barrier is not a concrete wall but fences — with transit gates — ditches and electronic sensors. Never mind that it was built to help defend civilians in Israel proper from terrorist attacks launched from the “Palestinian territories” (the disputed West Bank). At their peak in 2002, such attacks killed hundreds of Israelis and foreign visitors.
4) The article favorably portrays Layla Sayegh, day-to-day supervisor of “Shara’a Simsim.” She “came to the show in 2001, after three decades’ working for the Palestine Liberation Organization. She spent her 20s and 30s following Yasir Arafat through Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut and then to N orth Africa and Cyprus ….” Defending herself against charges of betraying the Palestinian cause by “working on a program connected to Israel,” Sayegh says “I was a PLO revolutionary all my life …. [A]nd no way will I let anybody call me a traitor.”
Shapiro is silent on the fact that during those years Sayegh followed Arafat, his PLO was one of the world’s leading terrorist organizations, the Soviet-backed murderer of hundreds of Jews and thousands of Arabs.
5) Shapiro refers to scripts attempting to deal with an Arab character missing in the Gaza Strip during Israel’s December 2008 — January 2009 incursion. She doesn’t say who the fighting was against (Hamas) or what provoked it (thousands of terrorist rocket and mortar attacks on Israel). She notes that “Shara’a Simsim’s” studio is in a building “pocked with bullet holes, from when the Israeli Army occupied the building … in 2001, during the second intifada.”
Again, no explanation of the intifada, no intimation of Palestinian responsibility.
6) Shapiro skates over a 1990s effort to produce a joint Israeli-Palestinian version of Israeli Television’s “Rechov Sumsum,” itself a spin-off of American public broadcasting’s “Sesame Street.” She notes that “the official Palestinian TV station was unwilling to show ‘Shara’a Simsim’ because it was produced jointly with ‘Rechov Sumsum,’ the Israeli version of ‘Sesame Street.'”
What she and The New York Times don’t say is that Palestinian Authority Television aired its own “Sesame Street” imitation then. So far was it from the New York-based Sesame Workshop’s ideal of teaching diversity and tolerance internationally that critics, including this writer, termed it “Jihad Street.”