Palestinian Sesame Street falls victim to US funding freeze

Rebecca Hawkes ©RapidTVNews | 09-01-2012

The local version of children's TV show Sesame Street, or Sharaa Simsim in Arabic, is on hold in Palestine following the suspension of funding by the US Congress.
Sharaa Simsim debuted on national television in Palestine in 1996 with a message of peace and tolerance and has since produced five popular series - although transmission has been punctuated by fundraising breaks.
Now, with the US funding freeze which is also affecting Palestine's hospitals, education and government ministries, AP reports Sharaa Simsim will not air this year.
Between 2008 and 2011, USAID gave US$2.5 million to Sharaa Simsim – almost the entire budget of the show - according to Ramallah-based executive producer Daoud Kuttab. He told AP a $2.5 grant was due to be issued to cover its production until 2014, but this has not yet materialised, and so the next series has been suspended.
Over 20 local versions of the iconic US children's TV show are made around the world. For each, the New York-based Sesame Street team consult with local production companies on creating relevant cast and content. In Palestine, the writers follow themes crafted by Palestinian educators, child psychologists and the Education Ministry.
Danny Labin, an executive at the Israeli TV station that co-produces the Israeli version of Sesame Street, told AP the funding freeze hampering the production of Sharaa Simsim is "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 penalised or held accountable to the politics and political leadership, over which they have no control," said Labin.
The suspension of $200 million worth of funding to Palestine and the West Bank from the US Agency for International Development followed Palestine's appeal last year to the United Nations for statehood. In December, Congress restored $40 million of the funding, although AP reports this is unlikely to be used to bankroll the children's TV show.
Over $500 million a year is donated to the Palestinians by the US.