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TV shows aims to settle conflict

A new television show will feature 12 Israeli and Palestinain teenagers attempting to come up with a solution to the Middle East crisis.

Palestinians and Israelis will sit down again this summer to try to reach a peace agreement, but this time it will be 12 teenagers on a television show trying to do what the United Nations and dozens of diplomats could not - come up with a solution to the Middle East crisis. The show, The Saint-Saturnin Agreements, will pluck six teenagers from each nation and put them in a villa in the south of France for a month.

The show will follow their daily routine along with discussions on how to unravel one of the world's biggest diplomatic tangles. Mohammed Ulad, whose company, Avec Productions, is making the show, said the premise is to see if a younger generation can come up with a peace solution that continues to evade their leaders. "Far away from their families and countries, they will have to share a house and daily chores before negotiating a peace agreement based on their respective personal development.

"We found it essential to move these young people from their respective environments because the question of 'living together' is at the heart of the conflict," Mr Ulad said. "The place where young Israelis and Palestinians live is very marked politically, socially and territorially, among others. "They are only a few kilometres far from each other, but do not have the possibility of building a 'common world'."

Although the show is not looking to dramatise the situation, he said, the early episodes could be "marked by hostility and prejudice". The last episode will feature the participants handing their proposals to the Israeli prime minister and the president of the Palestinian Authority. He has not yet started casting, but Mr Ulad said the company will try to choose a dozen 18-year-olds who are representative of the geographical, sociological and religious backgrounds in each society.

"There will be a balance between boys and girls, but also, on the Israeli side, perhaps between a religious and a non-religious person, a new immigrant and someone whose family has been settled for several generations, an Israeli Arab, someone from the Golan, someone from the Negev desert. "On the Palestinian side, we will try to take people from both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, teenagers living in refugee camps, others from East Jerusalem, Muslims and Christians, religious and non-religious people, children from families linked to Fatah and Hamas."

The participants will each have a mentor who will meet the "team" before each negotiation round and help them when the debate gets too heated, and apply more pressure when needed. It is not the first time Palestinians and Israelis have been thrown together in an "experiment". In 2004, four Israelis and four Palestinians took part in Breaking the Ice, a 35-day expedition to Antarctica aimed at getting them to work together to climb a mountain.

Although the location for this series is not yet definite, the producers are looking at Saint-Saturnin, a peaceful village in Provence. "It is a village where olive trees, the symbol of peace, are cultivated. It is a village which reminds us of the climate of Israel and the Palestinian territories," Mr Ulad said. "It is a virgin land of few political or historical symbolism and connotations." Mr Ulad, who was born in Tangier and moved to Paris in 1986, said the series would be filmed this summer and he was talking with France Televisions, the French public national television broadcaster, about airing the eight-episode show sometime next year.

The director, who is married to the daughter of François Mitterand, the late French president, has several international awards for previous work. He plans to turn the series into a feature-length documentary for international distribution. Mr Ulad, who is co-writing the show with Sophie Nordmann, an Israeli author and philosopher, has produced several feature films and directed several documentaries.

But he said this series was personal. "This project is perhaps the one that comes closest to me, my dreams, and even my daily life." While the format may resemble that of reality TV, Mr Ulad prefers to describe it as a documentary. "Where reality TV offers an individual experience aimed only at entertaining the public, our documentary series aims to offer an experiment to come up with an appropriate answer to the main question: is peace between the new Israeli and Palestinian generations possible?

"Moreover, the series is far from being a reality TV since there is no interactivity with the viewer and no participant to eliminate. "There will be neither a winner nor a loser, and the series is not broadcast in real time," Mr Ulad said. "The viewer thus does not intervene in the course of the participants' stay and experience." Marwan Kraidy, who is writing a book called Screens of Contention: Reality Television and Arab Politics, said the success of the series depends on who watches it and what type of media coverage it gets.

"The media coverage can be completely dismissive of the attempt or it can be very analytical." Still, a younger generation may have some fresh ideas. "They are sick and tired of the system. They are not part of the establishment so they don't have much to lose; they have a lot to gain with the situation changing." bslabbert@thenational.ae

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