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Last Updated: Friday, 14 November, 2003, 14:27 GMT
Big Bird's bid for Mid-East peace
Arab and Israeli Muppets
The show features Jewish and Arab Muppets
A series based on the TV show Sesame Street has gone on air across the Middle East, with the hope of encouraging peace and mutual acceptance amongst the region's children.

Sesame Stories - called Hikayat Simsim in Jordan and the Palestinian territories and Sippuray Sumsum in Israel - is in the same format as the US show, aimed at 4-7-year-olds, that has been around for more than 30 years.

It is hoped it will help the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians to love their neighbours - whatever their ethnic or religious differences.

"They're really based on universal stories about respect and understanding," Gary Knell, head of the Sesame Street project and creator of worldwide versions of the show, told BBC World Service's The Ticket programme.

"The thing that does connect them are the Muppets, and we have created three new local Muppets.

"Jordanians have two Muppets named Tonton and Jiddo, Palestinians have Tareem and Haneem, and Noach and Brosh will be on the show that kids see in Tel Aviv."

HIV positive Muppet

Worldwide versions of Sesame Street have often been adapted to reflect issues in various parts of the globe.

A new Muppet last year joined the South African version. Known as Kami, the character was HIV positive.

Similarly, Sesame Stories is set in a different environment to the street of the US version. In Israel, for example, it is set in a repair shop.

"We wanted to localise the show and make it relevant for the local population," said Mr Knell.

Kofi Annan with Muppets
Kofi Annan has said Sesame Street has "a spirit of understanding, sharing and working together"
The storylines of the show revolve around the lives of the mixed-race Muppet friends, and are themed around acceptance and empathy.

In one episode, Israeli and Arab friends group together to stage a peaceful protest after one Muppet makes too much noise with their drums.

Mr Knell added that although Sesame Stories does not yet feature Israeli Muppets meeting their Palestinian counterparts, he hoped "that soon we'll have the day when that can happen".

"But we also wanted to build into the Israeli version the diversity that exists within Israel - in fact the two human hosts on the show, one is an Israel Jew, one is an Israeli Arab."

The project, which has cost $8m, was part-funded by the European Union as well as a host of donor organisations.

Mr Knell said that the show would hopefully develop along with the peace process in the region.

"There are places where there are different stages of conflict, and you can be in a stage where there is armed conflict, where social lessons can be done in a certain way," he said.

"Then there are times of reconciliation, when you can be more overt about connecting people or concepts."

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