Lebanon’s Hezbollah has had a TV station for a while, al-Manar, now so too does Hamas in Palestine. The Hamas station is following in their footsteps to have a wider societal role in Palestine. The location of the station is a highly guarded secret, since Israel destoyed its earlier radio station. No doubt the TV station will probably help Hamas out in the polls as well. I imagine Fatah, like Israel, is not too happy with this development either. Like al-Manar, I don’t think it will be carried by satellite providers in Europe or North America any time soon.
Warm and Fuzzy TV, Brought to Yoy by Hamas
By Craig S. Smith
New York Times
Hazim Sharawi, also known as Uncle Hazim, with two of the animal characters from his new children’s show on Al Aksa TV in Gaza.
A Palestinian family watching Al Aksa TV at home in Gaza City. The television station, owned by Hamas, began broadcasting this month.
Hazim Sharawi, whose stage name is Uncle Hazim, is a quiet, doe-eyed young man who has an easy way with children and will soon preside over a children’s television show here on which he’ll cavort with men in larger-than-life, fake-fur animal suits on the Gaza Strip’s newest television station, Al Aksa TV.
The new station is part of the militant Palestinian group’s strategy to broaden its role in Palestinian politics and society, much as Hezbollah did in Lebanon. The station began broadcasting terrestrially on Jan. 7, and Hamas is working on a satellite version that would give it an even wider reach, like Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV, which is watched throughout the Arab world.
“The Arab satellite broadcasters Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya both turned us down,” he said, sitting beneath the seal of Hamas, which depicts the Dome of the Rock (which stands alongside Al Aksa mosque in Jerusalem) between crossed swords and an idealized map of Palestine. “Even Iraq and Saudi Arabia refused.”
In 2003, after the Palestinian Authority granted Hamas a broadcast license covering both radio and television, the group started the Voice of Al Aksa, which quickly became one of the most popular radio stations in the Gaza Strip. It took more than two years to assemble the expertise and equipment necessary to start the television station.
The current 12 hours of daily television programming, which has the unfinished look of public-access cable television in the United States, consists primarily of readings from the Koran, religious discourse and discussions of women’s issues, such as Islamic fashion, child-rearing tips and the right of women to work, which Hamas supports. It will eventually feature a sort of Islamic MTV, with Hamas-produced music videos using footage from the group’s fights with Israeli troops. There will even be a talent search show, a distant echo of “American Idol.”
Mr. Sharawi, 27, wearing a long black leather coat with a hood over a green suit and tie, fixed with a pin, looks like a straight-and-narrow Sunday school teacher. In fact, he got his start working with children at his mosque while studying geology at Islamic University in Gaza. His hair is parted in the middle, his beard trimmed as neatly as a suburban lawn.
He said the head of Hamas’s radio station spotted him leading children’s games at his mosque and asked him to do a children’s radio show two years ago. The show has become so popular, his appearances at occasional Hamas-sponsored festivals draw as many as 10,000 children at a time.
Mr. Sharawi will not take visitors to see him do his radio broadcast because the studio’s location is a heavily guarded secret. In 2004, an Israeli Apache helicopter fired three rockets into the station’s previous studio not long after Mr. Sharawi and his colleagues had fled.
Everybody involved in the television station is worried about another attack, but Mr. Sharawi said he is ready to die if it comes. “The messengers don’t care if they lose their lives for the sake of revealing the message,” he said.
As he describes it, his television show, which begins in a few weeks, will teach children the basics of militant Palestinian politics – the disputed status of Jerusalem, Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and the Palestinian refugees’ demand for a right to return to the lands they lost to Israel in the 1948 war – without showing the violence that Hamas’s pursuit of those goals entails.
The show will alternate between Uncle Hazim and his animal characters in the studio taking live phone calls from children and video clips recorded outside. Mr. Sharawi said he would leaven the sober and pedantic material with fun and games, including such standards as egg-and-spoon races, eating apples on a string or “tug of war, which will show children that the more you cooperate with others, the more you win.”
Mr. Sharawi said he would dress up in different costumes to suit the show’s locale: a sailor suit while taping on the beach, a track suit when in the park, even a Boy Scout uniform while hiking through the small patches of empty land that serve as Gaza’s wilderness.
“We will invite real Boy Scouts to come and talk to us about camping,” Mr. Sharawi said, warming to his theme (the Palestinian Scout Association is a member of the World Organization of the Scout Movement).
Through it all, Mr. Sharawi will be accompanied by animal-costumed sidekicks to provide comic relief. Hamas will rent the Egyptian-made plush costumes – a fox, a rabbit, a dog, a bear and a chicken, already gray and matted from wear – from a production company run by a Hamas supporter who has just emerged from two years in Israeli jails.
He said he was inspired by a children’s program on Saudi television in which a young veiled woman and a Mickey Mouse-like character take calls from kids. Fingering a string of bright green plastic prayer beads, a pale blue prayer rug lying on the chair beside him, he tries to reconcile Hamas’s bloody attacks that kill innocent children with his role as mentor.
“These are one of the means used by the Palestinians against Israel’s F-16’s and tanks,” he said of the suicide attacks, giving a stock answer. “We’re doing our best to avoid involving children in these issues, but I cannot turn the children’s lives into a beautiful garden while outside it’s the contrary.”
He gets up to fiddle with a magnesium light stand in the studio, which is furnished with five beige upholstered chairs and a dusty desk in front of a rattan screen decorated with plastic grape leaves.
The show, which will be broadcast on Friday mornings, the beginning of the Muslim weekend, will be preceded by an hour of cartoons, including a serialized life of the Prophet Muhammad, and that universal send-up of deadly conflict, Tom & Jerry.