Israeli actors protest closing Palestinian theater

JERUSALEM (AP) — Puppeteers from the Israeli version of Sesame Street protested Monday against Israel’s closure of a Palestinian children’s puppet festival, arguing that puppet theater poses no threat to Israeli security.

Ariel Doron, the voice of Elmo on the Israeli version of the popular children’s television show, and Yousef Sweid, who plays an Arab Muppet on the show, created a Facebook group named Puppets4All calling on Israel to permit the festival. Two other Israeli Sesame Street puppeteers, along with a number of fellow Israeli actors, uploaded photos to the Facebook group holding puppets and signs protesting the closure.

“I think every boy and girl deserves to see puppet theater,” said Doron. “There is no sense to this.”

He said Monday his initiative was private and not coordinated with Sesame Street. Miri Yanai Meir of Israel’s Sesame Street said the show had nothing to do with the puppeteers’ initiative.

Israel’s Ministry of Public Security last week ordered the temporary closure of the Hakawati Theater, the Palestinian national theater in east Jerusalem, canceling a children’s festival set to feature puppet shows and plays. Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said organizers of the theater illegally received funds from the Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank.

Israel prohibits Palestinian government activity in Israeli-controlled east Jerusalem, which Palestinians seek as the capital of a future state. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, including the eastern section of the city seized in the 1967 Mideast war.

Sesame Street, while steering clear of politics, has promoted messages of peace and tolerance in local versions of the show on Israeli and Palestinian television. Sesame Workshop, the American producer of the children’s television show, re-launched the local programs in 2007 after the original versions went off the air due to lack of funding.

The new Israeli version of “Rechov Sumsum” includes a Muppet of Arab origin, as well as characters representing Israel’s diverse Jewish immigrant population.

“Sharaa Simsim,” the Palestinian counterpart, has sought to offer positive role models to Palestinian children. The show went off the air last year after the U.S. government cut funding, one of many Palestinian programs affected by a funding suspension aimed at punishing the Palestinians for a unilateral appeal to the U.N. for statehood.

Layla Sayegh of the Sharaa Simsim staff said the show will resume on Palestinian TV this fall with financing from Sesame Workshop and a local source. The U.S. will not resume funding for the program, Sayegh said.

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