Bert, Ernie and Friends 'Sesame Street' Puppets to Promote Peace in the Middle East

After a more than 10-year hiatus, "Sesame Street" returns to Israel with new characters and hopes of inspiring tolerance and peace in the next generation.

Bert and Ernie have been called in to solve the Middle East crisis.

Bert and Ernie have been called in to solve the Middle East crisis.

It's difficult not to feel helpless in the face of the Middle East conflict. If decades of high-level negotiations haven't been able to find a solution to Palestinian-Israeli animosity, one is tempted to ask, then what will?

Broadcasters in the Middle East think they might have the answer: Sesame Street. After more than a decade of no Ernie, Bert and Bigbird, Sesame Street is set to hit the Middle Eastern airwaves once again, Israeli and Palestinian producers affiliated with the company Sesame Workshop said on Sunday. And the aim is no less than mending social conflict by planting the seeds of tolerance at an early age.

The new episodes, to be broadcast a decade after Sesame Street went off the air in the region due to lack of funding, are to focus on Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian children. In addition to featuring educational content for pre-schoolers, the show, which airs in more than 120 countries, uses casts and themes specific to regional demographics.

A Muppet of Arab origin who speaks both Hebrew and Arabic will be featured in the Israeli version, "Sippuray Sumsum." The show will also include human characters who are Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia and Russia -- groups which have been discriminated against in Israel.

The Palestinian variation, "Hikayat Simsim," is meant to provide positive examples to boys in the West Bank and Gaza strip. The project has largely been funded by the EU, and was created by Sesame Workshop and a group of Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli co-production partners.

"It's really about respect and tolerance," Gary Knell, president of Sesame Workshop, the New York-based non-profit group behind Sesame Street programming worldwide, told the AP. "We know that television teaches -- the question is, 'What does it teach?'"

Knell also said that the ultimate goal of the program is to work against negative societal influences, because young children can begin showing prejudicial behavior as early as age three.

"They're not born with this," he said. "They're learning it from their parents, from the community, from friends."

A ceremony at a Jerusalem kindergarten marked the show's re-launch, and came after more than a week of negotiations for additional funding between Knell and politicians in the region.

"There's a desire of the political leaders to change the endless debate that seems to be passed down from generation to generation," Knell told the AP.

At the ceremony, officials announced the release of Sesame Street themed learning kits for children, which will be distributed in Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Yuli Tamir, Israel's minister of education, attended the event and said the show, "opens up a new way to deal with issues of conflict -- just teaching children how to live together, how to work together with each other despite their differences."


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