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First, a militant mouse on Hamas show -- now, an 11-year-old radical

By Dion Nissenbaum - McClatchy Jerusalem Bureau

Last Updated 12:43 am PDT Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Story appeared in MAIN NEWS section, Page A12

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Saraa Barhoum picked at the buttons on her pink, bell-bottom jeans as she twisted on a chair inside the bustling new Hamas television headquarters.

Saraa, 11, wants to be a doctor. If she can't, the young star of Hamas television's best-known children's show said she'd be proud to become a martyr. Saraa says little Jewish girls should be forced from their homes in Israel so that Palestinians can return to their land.

With the show's producer helpfully offering written tips during an interview, Saraa didn't get into how she hopes to die for her cause, be it suicide bombing, fighting the Israeli military or some other way. She carefully sidestepped any suggestion that she's subtly calling for the destruction of Israel.

"Israel says that we are terrorists," Saraa said minutes before an interview with her was interrupted by an errant Israeli airstrike that slammed into an apartment building on the adjacent block. "But they are the ones that must stop their attacks against us and our kids."

Saraa is the sweet face of "Tomorrow's Pioneers," a weekly, hourlong Hamas television children's show best known for bringing the world a militant Mickey Mouse lookalike and then having him killed off by an Israeli interrogator.

With her jarring mix of innocent charm and militant rhetoric, Saraa is at the center of the militant Islamist group's increasingly sophisticated campaign to become the dominant force in Palestinian politics.

The station, which operates with a license from the Palestinian Authority, also features religious lessons, cartoons, advice shows and militant music videos. One video hailed a female suicide bomber whose young daughter vows to follow her mother's example.

"Tomorrow's Pioneers" sparked an international furor in April when it began featuring Farfour, the Mickey Mouse look-alike who sounded more like Iran's firebrand President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than a Disney character.

Mustafa Barghouti, then serving as the Palestinian Authority's information minister, called the show a "mistaken approach" to helping Palestinians and tried unsuccessfully to force the show off the air.

The Israeli government and activists who monitor Palestinian programming accused Hamas of poisoning the minds of young children with the show.

After two months, Farfour was beaten to death on the show by an Israeli interrogator. Nahoul, a larger-than-life bee, is now carrying his message.

Saraa helps deliver similar messages to Palestinian children from a Hamas TV set filled with colorful numbers and pictures of kittens. During the show, Saraa fields calls from Palestinian children who warble songs about Islam, liberating Jerusalem and finding answers in the barrel of a machine gun.

On one show, she cut off a caller who was singing about surrendering herself, presumably to God's will.

The show has provided new fodder for Israeli activists, who say that Saraa is the true face of Hamas, an extremist group that's using an innocent front to conceal its real agenda.

Hamas television officials defend the show, saying it's designed to help young children connect with their country and their God.

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