Hamas’ new bunny is carrot-allergic

Hamas’ new bunny is carrot-allergicThe jihad-for-kids show has been broadcast every Friday for more than one year on Al-Aqsa TV, a Hamas-affiliated channel. But until now, its padded hosts have all had a short-lived career. Assoud's predecessors, his cousin and his brother, were both "martyred" in previous episodes. Farfour, a Mickey Mouse look-alike, was beaten to death for refusing to sell his land to Israelis, while Nahoul the bee died because the Gaza siege prevented him from getting to a hospital in Egypt .

Palestinian Media Watch, an Israel-based watchdog, is very concerned about the macabre message conveyed by Tomorrow's Pioneers . PMW's director Itamar Marcus reproaches the program with "honoring death". The young spectators are undergoing a "brainwashing where their heroes are the people who die," he told BabelMed, predicting "it will have a serious long-term impact on children." Hamas is "indoctrinating them to love violence, to love death, to love conflict," Marcus said.

Hazem Al-Sharawi, the deputy director of Al-Aqsa TV, dismissed the criticism, insisting Tomorrow's Pioneers was about Palestinian kids "expressing their feelings about what they witness."

The program is indeed interactive, with young spectators calling to recite verses from the Koran or to sing resistance songs. However, their interventions are always very closely supervised by the hosts.

One Friday afternoon, Farfour the mouse interrupted 12 year-old Esraa because she had uttered the word "surrender". The anchor Saraa Barhoum, a jihab-wearing girl of about the same age, then lectured the singer. "We want to resist against the enemy," she explained in a perfect diction, with an angelic smile.

Conversely, when the lyrics complied with the show's editorial line, Farfour encouraged the singers by awkwardly dancing to the militant tunes. One day, as he was thus jiggling to one of those, he mimicked using an AK-47.

In another episode, he played a student cheating in class who tried to wriggle out of punishment by telling the teacher his notebooks were lost because "the Jews" had destroyed his house.

Concerned about the mascot’s incitement to hate and violence, Palestinian Media Watch translated excerpts of the show into English and widely publicized them via the Internet in May 2007. Walt Disney's daughter herself worried about children becoming influenced by the intolerant rodent. "What we're dealing with here is pure evil," Diane Disney Miller told the New York Daily News. The US Anti-Defamation League also denounced Tomorrow's Pioneers as "promoting a message of radical Islam, anti-Semitism and hatred for the West."

The outcry put pressure on the Palestinian government of national unity. From March to June 2007, Hamas, the Islamist party which won the last general elections, was sharing the power with secular Fatah, which enjoys the international community’s support. In mid-May 2007, then information minister Mustafa Barghouti, one of the independent members of the coalition government, announced that Tomorrow's Pioneers was being taken off the air for review. "It was wrong to use a program directed at children to convey political messages," he said.

However, two days later, Al-Aqsa TV ran its show as usual. Network director Fathi Hamad accused "Zionist enemies" and "American imperialism" of trying to "prevent the upbringing of the Palestinian children". "This generation needs someone to direct it," also pleaded Hazem Al-Sharawi, the deputy director of the TV channel.

The Palestinian Authority had thus intervened in vain. And when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in mid-June 2007, the PA could no longer even try to stop or amend the show.

Therefore Farfour went on preaching jihad in his high-pitched cartoon voice: "We will win, Bush! We will win, Sharon ! Ah, Sharon is dead (though not really; the former Israeli prime minister is still in a coma). We will win, Olmert!"

Hamas’ new bunny is carrot-allergicBut the six-foot mouse survived less than a month. He ended up being beaten to death in a late June 2007 show for refusing to sell his land to Israelis. The fictional killing occurred off-screen, but the young audience was still able to hear the punches and kicks of the Israeli interrogator character and the frenzied shouts of their "martyred" friend.

Two weeks later, a huge bee flew into the TV set to take over the vacant spot. Introducing himself as Farfour's cousin, Nahoul called for "revenge on the criminal Jews, the occupying Zionists ... by means of morning prayers, blood, sacrifice and pain, by means of martyrs and with endurance."

The belligerent bee fell ill a few months later. His parents, a human couple, tried to take him to an Egyptian hospital for surgery but were prevented doing so. The Rafah border crossing has been closed since last June. "All the children of Palestine are dying without treatment," his father howled as Nahoul breathed his last breath.

And then along came his brother Assoud, the pink bunny in braces.

During the rabbit’s introductory show, in early February, a young astonished viewer asked the new character why his name was Assoud, which in Arabic means lion, when in fact he really looked like a bunny. Rabbits are cowards, he answered, "but I, Assoud, will get rid of the Jews, Allah willing, and I will eat them up, Allah willing."

Assoud added the Danes to his menu after the reprinting of a Mahomet caricature. In Denmark in February, 17 newspapers and magazines republished a drawing of the Prophet wearing a bomb-shaped turban. It is one of the caricatures that had angered Muslims in 2005. And the Danish media reprinted it last month to support the death-threatened cartoonist and to take a stand against self-censorship.

On the Friday following the new publication, Saraa Barhoum slashed at "the West's attack against the Prophet" and Assoud urged the spectators to boycott Danish goods. Beating his breast like a gorilla, the bunny warned the infidels against any new blasphemy. "We will kill them," he squealed. "I will bite them and eat them!"

Given the exits of his predecessors, though, Assoud may be living on borrowed time. The show’s makers are apparently taken with the strategy of killing off their animal hosts just as they reach their peak of popularity. After all, what can better impress young viewers than seeing their fluffy friends die in front of them? Itamar Marcus reports that traumatized children have called the show to confide how they hate the Jews for killing Farfour.

Marie Medina

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