Jewish World Review
August 20, 2007
/ 6 Elul, 5767
Hamas TV's child star says she's ready for martyrdom
Officials defend show, saying it's designed to help young connect with their country and their god
JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT)
Saraa Barhoum picked at the buttons on her pink bellbottom jeans as she twisted on a chair inside the bustling new Hamas television headquarters. The afternoon light bounced off the sparkly outlines of butterflies on her frilly top, and a colorful hijab framed her 11-year-old face.
Saraa wants to be a doctor. If she can't, the young star of Hamas television's best-known children's show said, she'd be proud to become a martyr. Saraa says little Jewish girls should be forced from their homes in Israel so that Palestinians can return to their land.
With the show's producer helpfully offering written tips during an interview, Saraa didn't get into how she hopes to die for her cause, be it suicide bombing, fighting the Israeli military or some other way. She carefully sidestepped any suggestion that she's subtly calling for the destruction of Israel.
Saraa is the sweet face of "Tomorrow's Pioneers," a weekly, hour-long Hamas television children's show best known for bringing the world a militant Mickey Mouse look-alike and then having him killed off by an Israeli interrogator.
With her jarring mix of innocent charm and militant rhetoric, Saraa is at the center of the [terrorist] Islamist group's increasingly sophisticated campaign to become the dominant force in Palestinian politics.
"Hamas is fighting a political war for the hearts and minds of the West Bank and Gaza Strip," said Robert A. Pape, a University of Chicago political science professor and the author of "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism."
"They are trying to show that they are the true heart-and-soul of the community, all the way down to an 11-year-old-girl," Pape added.
Since it went on the air last year in the Gaza Strip, the Hamas-funded al-Aqsa television has gained momentum and expanded its audience to include the West Bank.
Taking a lead from Hezbollah's al-Manar television station in Beirut, Hamas is using al-Aqsa to promote its agenda and challenge its rivals, in this case Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his fractured Fatah allies.
During its decisive June military showdown with Fatah in Gaza, Hamas used its television station to broadcast footage of Fatah leaders joking with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other Bush administration officials. The message was clear: Fatah is in bed with America. After Fatah lost Gaza to Hamas, Fatah forces laid siege to al-Aqsa's offices in the West Bank and arrested several employees.
The station, which operates with a license from the Palestinian Authority, also features religious lessons, cartoons, advice shows and militant music videos. One video hailed a female suicide bomber whose young daughter vows to follow her mother's example.
"Tomorrow's Pioneers" sparked an international furor in April when it began featuring Farfour, the Mickey Mouse look-alike who sounded more like Iran's firebrand President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than a Disney character.
Mustafa Barghouti, then serving as the Palestinian Authority's information minister, called the show a "mistaken approach" to helping Palestinians and tried unsuccessfully to force the show off the year.
The Israeli government and activists who monitor Palestinian programming accused Hamas of poisoning the minds of young children with the show.
After two months, Farfour was beaten to death on the show by an Israeli interrogator. Nahoul, a larger-than-life bee, is now carrying his message.
"A lot of people in Palestine have died as martyrs, and lots of Palestinians hope to be martyrs," Saraa said of Farfour's demise. "This is one of the ends."
Asked if she hoped one day to be a martyr, Saraa instinctively nodded her head.
"Of course," Saraa said. "It's something to be proud of. Every Palestinian citizen hopes to be a martyr."
Saraa helps deliver similar messages to Palestinian children from a Hamas TV set filled with colorful numbers and pictures of kittens. During the show, Saraa fields calls from Palestinian children who warble songs about Islam, liberating Jerusalem and finding answers in the barrel of a machine gun.
On one show, she cut off a caller who was singing about surrendering herself, presumably to G-d's will.
"We don't want to surrender," Saraa told the caller. "We want to resist."
The show has provided new fodder for Israeli activists, who say that Saraa is the true face of Hamas, an extremist group that's using an innocent front to conceal its real agenda.
Hamas television officials defend the show, saying it's designed to help young children connect with their country and their god.
Israel and the United States both have pressured the Palestinian Authority to change school textbooks, radio shows and television programming that are seen to be fueling anti-Israeli hatred.
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© 2007, Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services