The most popular children's show in Gaza has a bouncy xylophone-driven soundtrack, but bunnies and other fluffy-fun lead-characters are dying more gruesomely and frequently than on the Sopranos.
The latest casualty is Assud the Bunny, a six-foot-tall smiling pink rabbit with big ears and a dancy gait who wants to "finish off the Jews and eat them". After a year of teaching numbers, the alphabet, and a bit of debatable Middle East history, Assud the Bunny threw himself in front of an Israeli missile in his final episode yesterday. On his deathbed he invited a little girl in a headscarf to "remember him as a martyr."
Assud the Bunny is no stranger to tragedy. He took over as host of "Tomorrow's Pioneers" from his cousin, Nahoul the Bee, who was martyred in February 2008 by starving himself to death in front of millions of adoring viewers and his improbably human on-screen family.
Nahoul the Bee hosted the show for seven months, teaching children, among other things, how to annoy cats by swinging them around by the tail and letting go, and how to rile lions in the Gaza zoo by pelting them with stones.
The first host of the show was Farfour the Mouse, who encouraged children to drink milk and listen to their parents. Farfour also led youngsters on the show in songs about the AK-47 and led in an accompanying dance that included shouldering and firing motions with imaginary rifles.
In his final episode (June 2007), Farfour the Mouse was quite graphically punched/stabbed by actors playing Israeli officials. A young teenage girl appears afterwards and gives a martyr's eulogy that is part teen-fan and part peer-encouragement.
But its not all fun and games at Gaza children's television.
After "Tommorrow's Pioneers," a stark panel discussion is on. The "panel" is of children ages 9 to 13, and the show is hosted by a calm and smiling adult questioner. He asks questions of the children:
Host: "Do you think its natural to ... blow your self up?"
Sabrine (age 17, by phone): "Yes! It's our right!"
Host: "Martyrdom. Do you think it's a beautiful thing?"
Walla (age 11, at table): "Yes it's a beautiful thing. Who wouldn't yearn for paradise?"
Host: "Would you agree with that?"
Yussra (age 11, at table): "Palestinian youth are not like other youth ... they choose martyrdom."
The children respond in a uniformly excited smiling manner, eager to please the questioner.
Even Fatah (the Palestinian party that control the West Bank of Palestine) has condemned these programs -- especially the latter talk show (if parroting dogma can be called talking) that is so obviously and explicitly designed to cause children to believe life is simply an opportunity for a useful death.
Useful to Hamas, that is.