Hamas TV continues prime time massacre

Last summer, Hamas's TV station brilliantly countered criticism of its children's show, Tomorrow's Pioneers, by having the Israelis kill off its main character, Farfour. Last week, Farfour's replacement, Nahool the bumblebee, also died a martyr's death - in a Gaza hospital bed, after Israel refused to allow it to travel outside for medical treatment. But the children needn't worry; a replacement is already waiting in the wings.
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Hamas TV host Sarraa is flanked by Farfour (l.) and Nahool (r.).

GAZA CITY, Feb. 7, 2008 (MENASSAT.COM) – "Who are you and where do you come from?" Sarraa asked. The 11-year-old, veiled host of Al-Aqsa TV's children's program, Tomorrow's Pioneers, seemed just a bit intimidated by the huge yellow bumblebee that had just walked onto the set.

"I am Nahool, Farfour's cousin," said the bumblebee.

"What do you want?" Sarraa asked.

"I want to follow Farfour's path," Nahool answered, "the path of 'Islam is the solution,' the path of heroism, of martyrdom and the mujahedeen. My friends and I will continue on Farfour’s path. We will take our revenge from the enemies of Allah, the killers of the prophets, the killers of innocent children, until we free al-Aqsa [Jerusalem] from their filth."

"Welcome, Nahool," said Sarraa, relieved.

It was July 13, 2007 when the makers of Tomorrow's Pioneers introduced Nahool the bumblebee as the newest character on the Hamas-affiliated station's weekly children's program. Nahool was himself a replacement for Farfour, a Mickey Mouse-lookalike character, whose "martyr" death at the hands of the Israelis Sarraa had announced to the children just two weeks earlier.

Last week, Nahool too became a "martyr." In the February 1 episode of Tomorrow's Pioneers, the bumblebee was seen dying in a hospital bed. Gaza's doctors were unable to treat Nahool for the disease he was suffering from because of the blockade, and the Israeli army did not allow Nahool to travel outside for treatment.

Farfour, the sequel

Tomorrow's Pioneers was controversial from the get-go. Israel quickly accused the show of anti-semitism and of inciting Palestinian children to become suicide bombers. Israeli officials demanded the closure of Al-Aqsa, and pressure was put on Egyptian satellite provider NileSat, unsuccessfully, to stop broadcasting the Hamas-affiliated station.

The Anti-Defamation League said the program clearly showed that Hamas, "for all their attempts to appear more moderate, is still willing to indoctrinate children into their culture of hate."

Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli organization that monitors Palestinian media, said the show takes "every opportunity to indoctrinate young viewers with teachings of Islamic supremacy, hatred of Israel and the U.S., and support of 'resistance,' the Palestinian euphemism for terror." PMW focused in particular on a statement in which Farfour had squeaked, "You and I are laying the foundation for a world led by Islamists."

(Not all the criticism was fair. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), an Israeli organization, came under attack itself when it turned out that it had incorrectly translated the words of a Palestinian girl calling into the show. Where the little girl had said, 'The Jews are shooting at us,' the MEMRI translation came out as, 'We want to annihilate the Jews.')

At one point, even Walt Disney's last surviving child, 73-year-old Diane Disney Miller, put her word in, saying, "What we're dealing with here is pure evil. It's not just Mickey. It's indoctrinating children like this, teaching them to be evil. The world loves children, and this is just going against the grain of humanity."

When the Palestinian Information Minister, Mustafa Barghouti, threatened to pull the program off the air, Al-Aqsa TV beat him to it by making Farfour a "martyr."

But instead of canceling the program, as it said at the time, Al-Aqsa simply replaced Farfour with Nahool, until he too was "martyred" last week.

Watch Nahool's first appearance on Tomorrow's Pioneers

Samir Abu Mohsen, director of programing at al-Aqsa TV, told MENASSAT this week that, "After the great controversy raised by Tomorrow's Pioneers and the protests of the Disney company, the channel decided to act with dignity and come up with its own character, away from all resemblance that could anger others. We decided to choose the character of Nahool, who is the same as Farfour but different in personality."

Abu Mohsen made no bones about Al-Aqsa's deeper intentions with the children's show.

"We are trying to address the public opinion around the world, and to incite feelings of sympathy for the suffering of Palestinian children who are being subjected to and suffer from the sanctions imposed on the Palestinian people," he said.

But, he added, "Tomorrow's Pioneers also enjoys wide popularity among the Palestinian children, and a lot of people call in to the program." He gave the example of a Palestinian mother who called the station last week to say that her children were crying over the death of Nahool, and were demanding the bumblebee's "resurrection" through another character.

But Tomorrow's Pioneers also has its detractors, and they are not all in Israel or the U.S. either.

Dr. Iyad Sarraj, head of Gaza's Psychological Health Program, criticized the show, saying, "The last thing Palestinian children need is to have their heads stuffed with even more violent ideas, which will definitely affect their future behavior."

According to Sarraj, "Children in Palestine are being subjected to a double amount of violence. The first is Israeli, and the second comes from the ideas inciting them to violence, killing their innocent childhood and disrupting their creative capacities."

The doctor urged all those working on these programs to "address the children and educate them in ways that encourage life, creativity, hope and optimism." There is a growing need, the doctor said, "for Palestinian children to have a normal life amidst the immense pressures, and to raise them in a proper way that would help building the Palestinian community."

Seeds of violence

Some Palestinian parents have come to the same conclusion, and shield their children from such programs.

Suad Ramlawi is a mother of five in Gaza, who refuses to let her children watch Tomorrow's Pioneers. She fears the show could have devastating effects on the minds and behavior of Palestinian children.

"Our children already live a continuous nightmare in their daily lives, leading to a low concentration span and inciting them to violence in the classroom," she says. "How can such programs, that usually end in the death of one of the characters, boost the moral of a child or make it love life and feel optimism?"

Watch the episode in which Farfour is "martyred off"

Mohamad Adnan, from the Rafah refugee camp, also regards the program as damaging to the children’s behavior.

"The people in charge of these programs should be aware that they are destroying an entire generation by planting the seeds of violence in their young minds. We should instead plant the culture of life among our children."

But Amal Ramadan, from the ash-Shate’ (The Beach) refugee camp in Gaza, strongly disagrees. She says that her children can't wait for Tomorrow’s Pioneers to come on, and she feels that the show's characters and plot "accurately describe the daily life, concerns and sufferings of Palestinian mothers and children."

"Children are part of the society", Ramadan says. "They shouldn’t forget their cause and the suffering of their people. Reminding the children of what is happening is not a shame, especially with children being killed on a daily basis."

The children needn't worry; a replacement for Nahool is already waiting in the wings. According to Al Aqsa's Abu Mohsen, next week's episode will see a new character introduced to the show, although he refused to divulge any details about its identity ahead of time.

Meanwhile, Abu Mohsen is preparing for a new round of attacks from what he calls "the enemies of the Palestinian people." But he promised that Al-Aqsa will not be deterred from "highlighting the misery of the Palestinian people," and "bringing the attention of the whole world to their good causes" through its programing.