(Go to JAT-Action Home Page)

On Game Show, Arab Drumbeat: Remember Jerusalem

This article from the New York Times of April 19, 2004, could be viewed orginally at this URL.

BEIRUT, Lebanon - Quick. What is the name of the Palestinian village near what is now the Israeli city of Ramla that was destroyed in 1949 and replaced by a town called Yavne?

Too difficult? It's Yibna. Try another.

What structure built of gray sandstone in 1792 became the source of all oppressive decisions the world over?

This one should be easy: the White House.

If you answered both questions correctly, you might be prime fodder to compete on "The Mission," a game show running on Al Manar, the satellite television channel of Hezbollah, the militant Lebanese group.

Contestants from around the Arab world compete each Saturday night for cash and the chance to win a virtual trip to Jerusalem. To heighten the drama, points won by the finalists translate directly into steps toward the holy city that are flashed onto a map of the region.

The show is a novel way for Hezbollah to promote its theme - that all Arab efforts should be concentrated on reconquering land lost to Israel, especially Jerusalem.

"Any program at this television station must present the idea that the occupation of Palestine must end," said Ihab Abi Nassif, a 28-year-old high school physics teacher who is the show's host. "That is the core issue, which is why we work day and night to keep it vivid in people's minds."

The game show, begun last fall, is a tad more subtle than the channel's other offerings outside its fairly straightforward news shows. The program "Terrorists," for example, plays endless loops of film from Israeli attacks that killed civilians. "Sincere Men," drawing its name from a Koranic verse about the strength of the faithful when facing battle, profiles either Hezbollah fighters who undertook suicide missions or those in waiting.

"The Mission" follows a standard game show format, with contestants quizzed about history, literature, geography, science and the arts. But at least half the questions revolve around Palestinian or Islamic history, and at least one contestant is usually Palestinian.

"We wanted to put it into a form that would appeal to a wider segment of the population," said Ibrahim Musawi, a spokesman for Manar and the director of its English news. "It is not in an ideological or a direct way, but in an entertaining way."

Some critics label Manar pure propaganda. They suspect that Hezbollah's backers, Iran and Syria, use the relatively free speech of Lebanon to promote hatreds they would not dare pronounce at home.

"Its television programs show that the Jews are bad, the Europeans are bad, the Americans are bad," said Waddah Sharara, a sociology professor at Lebanese University. "I don't think that it is effective propaganda."

Hezbollah gained a certain credibility across the Arab world after its repeated fatal attacks against Israeli soldiers occupying southern Lebanon, helped speed an Israeli withdrawal. They increased their television ratings by broadcasting film of the operations, although the audience is believed to watch less now that such missions have tapered off.

Programs like "The Mission" repackage the theme. "They have an extraordinary sense of theater," said Mr. Sharara, noting that even their important street pageants are choreographed by professional directors.

There is no doubt that Manar is popular among Shiite Muslims, especially in Lebanon, but it is hard to gauge the show's overall popularity. About 7,000 people from throughout the region called in one 35-day period earlier this year to ask to compete, the producers said.

The American Embassy in Beirut said that it monitors Manar, but Washington rarely singles out the station for criticism, lumping all its disapproval together by labeling Hezbollah a terrorist organization. One senior United States official in the region did grumble about "The Mission" as encouraging violence, calling it "Name Your Favorite Terrorist."

Some questions do focus on the men who carried out suicide operations. "The martyr Amar Hamoud was nicknamed 'The Sword of All Martyrs?' - true or false?" was one recent question. True. Mr. Abi Nassif, who never fails to address the subject of recapturing Jerusalem in his patter, went on to describe the man's exploits.

The questions range from the easy, "The French Revolution was in 1789, true or false?" (True) to the more esoteric, "What Abbasid era calligrapher introduced a new Arabic script, copied the Koran 64 times and maintained a flourishing school until Baghdad fell to the Mongols in 1258?" (Abu Hassan Ali Bin Hillal, of course.)

The prizes are not huge. Players who reach five million Lebanese pounds, or something over $3,000, earn the chance to double their winnings with one "golden question" worth the same amount. When the winner gains the 60 points necessary to reach Jerusalem, the song that is a staple of Hezbollah parades booms out. "Jerusalem is ours and we are coming to it," the chorus says in part.

Dr. Muhammad Abu Ghararah, a 56-year-old Libyan surgeon who lives in Germany, decided to appear on the program during a weeklong vacation last December, He did the full Hezbollah Lebanon tour, visiting a former Israeli prison in the south and stopping at Fatima Gate to hurl stones at the Israeli soldiers over the border fence. He donated the $3,000 he won on "The Mission" to a Palestinian charity, he said.

"These kinds of programs are very important, repeating the issue of the Palestinians, keeping it vivid in our minds, keeping it alive," Dr. Ghararah said. "It is like commercials. When there are so many commercials about a toothpaste, for example, when you go to the supermarket you spontaneously think about it and buy it. The same with Palestinians. We always have to remember the Palestinian cause, and that is what Manar does."

(Go to  Top of Page)

(Go to JAT-Action Home Page)

Valid HTML 4.01!