Palestinian Sesame Street ails without US funds


It's quiet time on Palestinian Sesame Street. The iconic children's program, known as "Sharaa Simsim" in Arabic, has been put on hold for the 2012 season because of a funding freeze by the US Congress.

Sharaa Simsim is one of many US-funded Palestinian programmes suffering after Congress froze the transfer of nearly $200 million (£130m) to the US Agency for International Development in October. The suspension aimed to punish the Palestinians for appealing to the United Nations for statehood. 

The funding suspension — affecting hospitals, education, and government ministries that all rely on American aid — is breeding resentment and frustration in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, even among the most progressive organizations. 

In the Ramallah offices of Sharaa Simsim on Thursday, the writing workshop room was empty and the set was closed. 

"If we had funding, we would be writing scripts, we would be reviewing scripts, we would be hiring filmmakers to produce the videos," said executive producer Daoud Kuttab. 

Even as the freeze put Palestinian Sesame Street on hold, the State Department is investing $750,000 (£486,000) in the Israeli version of the show, which is now filming its newest season with an emphasis on teaching children the value of fairness. 

Danny Labin, an executive at the Israeli TV channel that co-produces Israeli Sesame Street, call the funding halt to the Palestinian show "extremely unfortunate." 

"Young children, whether Israeli or Palestinian, who are in need of educational tools to foster diversity appreciation and to prepare for life in a pluralistic society, should not be penalized or held accountable to the politics and political leadership, over which they have no control," Labin said. 

Sharaa Simsim, the Palestinian show, debuted in 1996 and has produced five seasons since, with long intermissions for fundraising. It has promoted a message of peace and tolerance that Israeli critics say is often missing from Palestinian airwaves. The main characters Haneen, a red-headed orange muppet, and the green rooster Kareem have became household names for Palestinian children. 

Sharaa Simsim is one of about two dozen international shows produced by the Sesame Workshop Staff, the parent company of the American show. Others are aired in Israel, Egypt, Russia and South Africa. In each country, the New York-based Sesame Street staff consults with the local production teams to create a unique cast and content. 

Kuttab said production takes months. At the beginning of each season, Palestinian educators and child psychologists work with the Education Ministry to craft themes and curriculum. Then writers draft the episodes, with occasional review from New York. Filmed in Ramallah and airing on Palestinian national television, each 20-minute episode is half Palestinian content and half American footage. 

Sharaa Simsim was supposed to begin this process in October, but Kuttab said the show won't be able to air in 2012. 

"Every month we are behind schedule it actually means two or three months down the line," he said. "If we don't do the curriculum workshop we can't do the scriptwriting. If we don't do the scriptwriting we can't do the filming, and there are actors who have their own schedules." 

From 2008-2011, USAID gave $2.5 million to the programme, covering nearly the entire budget, Kuttab said. 

USAID was scheduled to issue another $2.5 million grant to Sharaa Simsim to last until 2014, Kuttab said. But in early October, Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, placed holds on $192 million in funding to USAID for programs in the West Bank and Gaza. 

She said this was in reaction to the Palestinian's appeal to the UN to admit the Palestinians as a full member state. The US, Israel and others oppose the move, saying a Palestinian state can only come about through negotiations. 

Congress restored $40 million of the funding in December but it's doubtful any will go to the show. Many programs are clamoring for funding, including healthcare and humanitarian projects, said a USAID official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of ongoing Congressional debates. 

Bradley Goehner, spokesman for Ros-Lehtinen, did not say if the intention was to cut Palestinian Sesame Street and other programs, or if more USAID funding would be restored. 

"It is a matter that continues to be discussed with the administration and pertinent members," Goehner wrote by email. 

American opposition to the Palestinian bid raised hackles in the West Bank, ruled by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority. Days after the USAID funding hold, Palestinian protesters hurled a shoe at an American diplomatic convoy in Ramallah. 

Nasser Abdul Karim, an economist at Birzeit University in the West Bank, said the freeze hurt Washington's image and will push Palestinian groups to diversify their funding. 

"Because of the U.S. support of the Israeli agenda, (Palestinians) look at American aid with a lot of suspicion," Abdul Karim said. 

The US donates more than $500 million a year to the Palestinians, including funds for security forces, the government's operating budget and USAID programs. 

Kuttab said he is using some last-minute funding from the Palestinian Authority to tape small-scale children's programs. Core staff are working on reduced salaries, and freelancers are off the payroll. 

In the meantime, the show's muppets have been sent to New York for repairs. 

Sesame Workshop in New York confirmed the Palestinian show is on hold. Spokeswoman Beatrice Chow said Sesame hopes USAID will resume its support. 

Since it was founded, Sharaa Simsim has reflected the region's political ups and downs. 

In the first season, muppets from Israeli and Palestinian programs visited each other on TV. After the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000, the cooperation crumbled. 

USAID backed out of funding after the Hamas militant group won Palestinian elections in 2006, and Kuttab scrambled to create a mini season with funding from Holland and small organizations. 

Actor Rajai Sandouka, who plays the rooster Kareem, said he is working as a freelance actor in theaters and as a drama teacher while he waits for the latest freeze to be lifted. He said kids recognize his voice when he is on stage, even when he plays other characters. 

"A lot of people are asking about me," said Sandouka, 50, from east Jerusalem.

AP

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home