Off the air (due to a lack of funding) since 1997, "Rehov Sumsum" returned to the Israeli children's cable television network "Hop!" this past Chanukah (2006). This week, Ma'an, an independent network of Palestinian television stations will begin broadcasting their version of the series. Ha'aretz reports:
"...Producers tailored the Middle Eastern casts and story lines to the fit the audiences. 'Rehov Sumsum,' the Israeli version of the show, for the first time includes a Muppet of Arab origin. Its Palestinian counterpart, 'Shara'a Simsim,' seeks to offer positive role models to boys in the West Bank and Gaza Strip." (April 30, 2007)
A little background:
"...After the shows ended in 1997, a joint Palestinian-Israeli production in the planning stages was shelved when the Palestinians launched the second intifada in 2000.
"Instead, a limited series called 'Sesame Stories' was produced in 2004 by independent Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian production teams. The animations and live-action episodes were dubbed and aired on each other's series.
'The Muppets couldn't speak each other's languages, but they connected over falafel and hummus, and a common dislike of onions,' Knell said.
"The new Israeli and Palestinian shows are produced independently, placing an emphasis on educating children about their own societies. Like any "Sesame Street," they also teach basic skills like numbers and letters, good manners and keeping the environment clean.
"'Rechov Sumsum' teaches tolerance by portraying a street inhabited by Israelis of varying backgrounds who live together peacefully: Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, veterans and immigrants. The neighbors are real-life children and adult characters, including a Jewish man named Tzahi, an Arab woman named Ibtisam, a Russian woman named Irina and an Ethiopian student named Malkamo." (JTA, May 14, 2007)
Sesame Workshop, in a press release from last December, described the initiative as part of their commitment "to creating and providing positive media content for children in the Middle East." Along with the new Israeli and Palestinian versions, this includes productions in Egypt ('Alam Simsim', now entering its 10th year) and Jordan (Hikayat Simsim). The new Palestinian series:
"...will be accompanied by an educational outreach campaign, will feature a new set that now includes a Fix-It shop run by Salim, a new male character in his early 20’s. Beloved Palestinian Muppet characters Haneen, a 5-year-old learning how to count and read, and Kareem, a 7-year-old rooster, who is organized, tidy, timely, and traditional, return to Shara’a Simsim. The new season responds directly to the needs of Palestinian children by focusing on boys’ empowerment and introducing the character of Salim, who will serve as a positive role model for young children."
All this is great news for Israelis (and the rest of us) who until now have had to turn to YouTube to hear "Barvazoni" ("Rubber Duckie" sung in Hebrew).