In Palestinian Territories, Tragedy Made for Children’s TV

farfour1 In Palestinian Territories, Tragedy Made for Children’s TVOne of the most recent victims of the violence that has escalated in the Palestinian territories in recent weeks was none other than Farfur, the cartoon jihadi mouse that enraged observers worldwide after Al Aqsa TV, a station with ties to Hamas, introduced him earlier this year on a children's program aimed at Palestinian youngsters.

Farfur, a Mickey Mouse clone with a bow tie, tailcoat, and screechy high-pitched voice, was the star of Tomorrow's Pioneers, a Friday morning program aimed at preschoolers. He was played, Barney-the-dinosaur style, by an adult wearing a plush body suit topped off with a large, wide-eyed and perpetually smiling mouse head, and he appeared alongside Sara, a pretty teenaged presenter with a penchant for pastel headscarves.

Together, Farfur and Sara presented a series of short skits about subjects ranging from the importance of taking pride in the Arabic language to the goal of achieving Islamist rule in historical al-Andalus (present-day Spain and Portugal), and they took live on-air phone calls from children as young as three.

In one episode, Farfur spoke a few words of English and was scolded for doing so by Sara, who explained to him that he shouldn't be fooled into thinking that English is the language of progress. In another episode, Farfur was sitting in an elementary school classroom among a group of children taking a test when a teacher suddenly began twisting one of his black cartoon-mouse ears and accusing him of cheating. Farfur burst into tears, explaining that he'd cheated because "when the Jews destroyed our home, I couldn't find my notebooks."

The Farfur character drew horrified reactions from officials of Fatah, the Palestinian party that Hamas has been battling for control of the territories, as well as from Israeli and Western commentators.

The New York Daily News dubbed Farfur "terror mouse."

A Palestinian political analyst, Hani Habib, flatly told Reuters that Tomorrow's Pioneers was a recruitment tool for Hamas. Several Arabic newspapers, including Al Watan and Asharq Alawsat, covered the Farfur controversy.

Diane Disney-Miller, the only surviving daughter of Mickey's creator, called Farfur "pure evil" and demanded that he be taken off the air. Farfur was called "despicable" by Walt Disney C.E.O. Robert Iger, though Disney stopped short of issuing a formal statement on the subject.

"We were appalled by the use of our character to spread these messages," Mr. Iger said at a convention of the Society of American Business Editors & Writers, according to news reports, adding that Disney didn't "want to prolong the situation." "We didn't believe us making a statement would make Hamas do anything differently," Mr. Iger added.

Some Beirut-based friends of this writer jokingly gave Farfur a nom de guerre, Abu Jibneh (Father of Cheese, in Arabic). But the Farfur tapes – which are still widely available on YouTube–don’t actually provide much in the way of levity: piping voices of kindergarteners saying "We don't like the Jews because they are dogs," a Mickey clone dancing to a song about the joys of carrying an AK-47 against Israel.

After the Palestinian Authority's Minister of Information, Mustafa Barghouti, demanded that Al Aqsa take Tomorrow's Pioneers off the air, the station's programmers responded by killing off the show's mouse hero on live children's television.

On the June 29th episode of Tomorrow's Pioneers, Farfur appeared in a scene with an Israeli agent character who demanded that the mouse relinquish his lands to the Israelis. When Farfur refused, the Israeli agent character beat him to death, and as his anguished screams gradually subsided, the camera panned to Sara, who sat calmly before a wall covered with the kind of colorful foam tiles that might protectively line the play area of a nursery school.

"Yes, dear children, we have lost our dearest friend, Farfour," Sara explained, furrowing her brow and gazing into the camera, in a clip of the final program that was translated by Middle East Media Research Institute. "Farfour was martyred while defending his land, the land of his fathers and his forefathers. He was martyred at the hand of the criminals, the murderers, the murderers of innocent children."