JERUSALEM – Puppeteers from the Israeli version of "Sesame Street" are protesting the cancellation of a puppet festival for Palestinian children at an East Jerusalem theater.
Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich ordered the Hakawati Theater temporarily closed last week, preventing the annual festival from being held.
Israeli authorities alleged the theater had received sponsorship illegally from the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. The theater’s director, Mohammed Halayiqa, denied the accusation, telling Agence France-Presse that the festival was funded by donations from abroad and calling the closure "disgraceful."
Among those lending their voices to the protest are Ariel Doron, the puppeteer behind the Israeli Elmo, and Yousef Sweid, who gives voice to an Arab Muppet. With others, they have launched an online campaign in which protesters post pictures of themselves on Facebook with puppets and handwritten messages like “Culture is not a security risk.”
The Puppets4All Facebook page is gaining members quickly as Israeli television and stage actors post pictures of themselves with Elmo and Bert, stuffed animals and other toys.
A short video clip titled “Israel’s Puppet War,” which features a puppet being chased by an inflatable hammer, was posted to YouTube. Viewers are invited to sign a petition declaring, “Every child has the right to enjoy puppet shows!”
Ariel has stressed to journalists that the protest is a private initiative and not coordinated with "Sesame Street."
According to a statement quoted in Israeli media, the security ministry is "not opposed to artistic and cultural activities for East Jerusalem children, as long as they are conducted according to law."
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Sobelman is a news assistant in The Times' Jerusalem bureau.