What if ‘The Wire’ were set in Ramallah? (& Jewish-Arab celebrity wedding in Israel)

October 11, 2018

Fauda: “Why is this Israeli drama such a hit with Palestinians? because it tells the truth,” notes one British magazine

 

Former (Israeli-Jewish) special operations commando turned actor Tzachi Halevy (who plays Naor in Fauda) married Israeli-Arab TV news anchor Lucy Aharish last night in a small private ceremony in northern Israel. The pair have been together for four years, but their relationship was kept secret until yesterday so as not to arouse the anger of some members of her family.

 

“WHY IS THIS ISRAELI DRAMA SUCH A HIT WITH PALESTINIANS? BECAUSE IT TELLS THE TRUTH”

[Note by Tom Gross]

I prepared a dispatch in June on the Israeli hit TV show Fauda (“your new favourite TV series” as the British magazine The Spectator calls it in the article below). But I didn’t send it then because of other more pressing news dispatches.

I attach four pieces below, including one from last week.

As James Delingpole writes in The Spectator:

“Yet amazingly the Palestinians love this Israeli series too. Or perhaps not so amazingly, because it does them the service of taking them seriously, even treating them with grudging respect. Their brooding killers are intelligent, capable, single-minded, devout – the ultimate expression of a culture which combines the Mafia’s obsession with honour, blood feuds and family loyalty with unswerving submission to the will of Allah.

“So apart from providing edge-of-seat entertainment, compelling character acting and location shots so atmospheric you wonder how they were ever able to film it (especially in places like Nablus), it gives you a far clearer understanding of what’s really going on in the Middle East than anything you’ll ever see on the BBC.”

In the second piece below, the influential American magazine Foreign Policy notes that:

“A hit TV series has found audiences among Israelis and Palestinians alike with its brutal honesty about the ugliness of war and the complexity of human life.”

It adds that Fauda is “a stunning Israeli drama that depicts not only an undercover unit chasing terrorists in the West Bank, but also the world of those terrorists themselves, complete with the wives, children, and mundane family matters that mark them as entirely human.”

BOTH ISRAELIS AND HAMAS LIKE IT

“More than a television event, Fauda is also a political event,” wrote the bestselling Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot. “It’s much more than a successful action drama: It is authentic, honest, and painful.”

The program was embraced by nearly every media outlet in Israel, including the right wing, pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom, which called it “relevant, exact, and thrilling.”

Viewers in Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza have also been hooked on the show.

Whereas other Israeli-originated TV hits such as “Homeland” have earned Emmys in the U.S., this show – which was originally shown on Israeli TV but then bought by Netflix – is considered much more authentic.

Hamas has even promoted Fauda on its various websites for example, here:

https://www.palinfo.com/site/pic/newsdetails?itemid=172250

A rare media exception that was less than fully enthusiastic about Fauda was (predictably) the New York Times. In a front-page article in its international edition earlier this year, the paper managed to misrepresent the show and criticize Israel.

Another detractor was the hard left Israel-born critic of Israel, Rachel Shabi, writing in The Guardian who (unlike Hamas) didn’t think the show was sufficiently sympathetic to the Palestinians.

 

JEWISH-ARAB CELEBRITY WEDDING IN ISRAEL

Meanwhile one of the (Jewish) stars of Fauda, actor Tzachi Halevy, wed Israeli-Arab TV news anchor Lucy Aharish yesterday evening in a small private ceremony in northern Israel.

The pair has been together for four years, though their relationship was kept out of the media glare.

Marriages between Jews and Arabs are relatively rare in Israel, but there has been a very positive reaction by most people in Israel this morning after the couple announced their wedding last night.

(Even more rare is journalistic restraint in Israel, yet the many reporters who knew about the relationship agreed not to report on it out of respect for the couple’s privacy. Aharish had made a special request to keep the relationship a secret so as not to arouse the anger of some members of her family.)

Aharish, who currently hosts a program for Israeli channel Reshet 13, previously served as an anchor for Israeli Channel 2 (in Hebrew) and for i24 (in English).

I have been interviewed by her on several occasions, for example, here, here and here.

Aharish has repeatedly criticized Arab leaders for abandoning Syrian refugees now living in abysmal conditions in the Greek island of Lesbos and elsewhere, calling them “traitors” for example, here.

Halevy, a former special operations commando turned actor is best known for his role as Naor in Fauda. Most recently, he portrayed Libyan dictator Muammar Gadaffi in the Netflix film The Angel.


ARTICLES

WHY IS THIS ISRAELI DRAMA SUCH A HIT WITH PALESTINIANS? BECAUSE IT TELLS THE TRUTH

Why is this Israeli drama such a hit with Palestinians? Because it tells the truth
Unlike most American drama series, Fauda isn’t there to make friends

By James Delingpole
Television columnist
The Spectator magazine (London)
June 9, 2018

https://www.spectator.co.uk/2018/06/why-is-this-israeli-drama-such-a-hit-with-palestinians-because-it-tells-the-truth/

‘The rule in our household is: if a TV series hasn’t got subtitles, it’s not worth watching,’ a friend told me the other day. Once this approach would have been both extremely limiting and insufferably pompous. In the era of Netflix and Amazon Prime, though, it makes a lot of sense.

There’s something about English-speaking TV – especially if it’s made in the US – that tends towards disappointment. Obviously there have been exceptions: The Sopranos; Band of Brothers; Breaking Bad; Game of Thrones. But too often, what’s missing is that shard of ice in the creative heart that drama needs if it’s to be truly exceptional.

American drama is a slobbering puppy dog. No matter how dark or weird its subject matter, there’s invariably a fatal moment where it suddenly rolls over onto its back and begs you to tickle its tummy. Its urge to show you how secretly lovable it is is more powerful than its desire to be great art. Perhaps I’ll go into more detail on another occasion but The Looming Tower and Ozark are both victims of this tendency.

Fauda (Netflix), on the other hand, doesn’t give a shit whether you think it’s caring or sharing or has a wholesome moral core. It’s Israeli. It’s not there to make friends. Or take prisoners. And as a result it’s honest, true, gripping, real – and definitely your new favourite TV series.

You can see immediately why it has been a huge hit in Israel. It’s a thrillingly gritty series about an undercover Israeli Defence Force intelligence unit whose job is to fight mostly Palestinian terrorists. There’s moody, downbeat ox-like Doron (played by Lior Raz who, before becoming an actor, did this sort of thing for real); handsome Mickey Moreno; ludicrously hot Nurit; careworn but pragmatic Captain Ayub. They’re tough, fit, committed, brave; their banter is terse; they love one another like family; they’re the defenders of their fragile, perpetually threatened civilisation.

And, by extension, of our civilisation. Their womenfolk are bareheaded, open, sexually promiscuous; they drink beer and smoke bongs at barbecues; their bars serve the same array of spirits, play the same dance music, entertain the same beautiful young things you’d find in London, Paris, New York, Tokyo; they’re religious, some of them, but not oppressively so. Life is good, the economy is booming, the future is bright.

Not so the world on the other side of the wall – so alien it might as well be Mordor or the land of the Wildlings and the White Walkers. The men all chain smoke (about the only thing they have in common with the Jews), but drink only endless sugary drinks (coffee or juice) or water. Women lurk mainly in the background, behind veils. Homes are much shabbier, except when you’re senior in Hamas which buys you a bit of bling. The general mood is one of sexual repression, simmering resentment, dogged piety – enlivened only by the constant threat of violence. You really wouldn’t want this world view to end up the winner.

Yet amazingly the Palestinians love this series too. Or perhaps not so amazingly, because it does them the service of taking them seriously, even treating them with grudging respect. Their brooding killers are intelligent, capable, single-minded, devout – the ultimate expression of a culture which combines the Mafia’s obsession with honour, blood feuds and family loyalty with unswerving submission to the will of Allah.

So apart from providing edge-of-seat entertainment (drawn-out scenes of unbearable tension suddenly bursting into car chases or shoot-outs or explosions), compelling character acting and location shots so atmospheric you wonder how they were ever able to film it (especially in places like Nablus), it gives you a far clearer understanding of what’s really going on in the Middle East than anything you’ll ever see on the BBC.

One thing you’ll quickly notice – and for goodness’ sake, watch it in Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles, not in the dubbed version – is the extraordinary degree to which Arab culture is defined by religion. Besides all the praying and visits to the mosque which punctuate the day, every greeting and every expression of hope implicitly or explicitly invokes God (‘Inshallah’, etc). Even a trip to the hairdresser isn’t complete without the blessing to the barber ‘may God bless your hands’.

If it hadn’t been made in Israel, I suspect more effort might have been made to sanitise, prettify or otherwise westernise this culture in order to make the Palestinians more ‘sympathetic’. Fauda takes the more respectful path of simply showing things as they are: two peoples, often so similar in appearance you cannot tell them apart, often fluent in each other’s languages, yet utterly and impossibly riven by a set of inimical values derived from a wholly different religious and cultural mind set. Sadly, this one is going to run and run.

 

WHAT IF ‘THE WIRE’ WERE SET IN RAMALLAH?

What if ‘The Wire’ Were Set in Ramallah?

A hit TV series has found audiences among Israelis and Palestinians alike with its brutal honesty about the ugliness of war and the complexity of human life.

By Debra Kamin
May 29, 2015
Foreign Policy magazine

TEL AVIV, Israel – For 20 years, the Israeli actor Lior Raz has had the same dream.

He is chasing a terrorist down a long hallway, or an alley, or perhaps a dark street. The terrorist turns and pulls a gun from his hip. Raz, in the nick of time, pulls his own weapon and squeezes the trigger. But something is wrong with the gun. Instead of hitting their target, the bullets fall short, clattering to the ground like harmless pebbles. Raz is then left stranded, trapped by his own unconsciousness, the cold metal taste of death slowly seeping into his mouth.

It’s a nightmare, Raz says, that is common among veterans of the Israeli Special Forces.

Some special forces soldiers are trained in intelligence gathering, while others are navy commandos or highly-skilled aerial fighters. But the most famed among Israelis are the mista’arvim, the deep-cover officers who speak accent-free Arabic and can slip unnoticed into the heart of enemy territory.

Military service is mandatory for Israeli citizens, and Raz served out his in one such special forces unit. He speaks fluent Arabic, and has years of training in the customs, mannerisms, and dress of the Palestinians. Like most of his fellow mista’arvim soldiers, his relationship with the Arab world is complicated. These soldiers understand that to infiltrate Palestinian society, you must do more than just study your enemy. You must also learn to love him.

Now, two decades after completing his service as a special forces officer, Raz, 43, is applying his training to an entirely different target: Israeli television audiences.

Alongside journalist and Arab affairs specialist Avi Issacharoff, who himself was also stationed in the West Bank during his military service, Raz created Fauda, a stunning Israeli drama that depicts not only an undercover unit chasing terrorists in the West Bank, but also the world of those terrorists themselves, complete with the wives, children, and mundane family matters that mark them as entirely human. Raz also stars in the series.

The program, which premiered in Israel on Feb. 15 and wrapped up its first season earlier this month, marks a departure for Israeli entertainment. Such an even handling of Israelis and Palestinians is radical for television here, where dramas traditionally stay rooted in the Israeli perspective – or avoid the conflict altogether.

With a majority of Arabic dialogue, a cast packed with Arab actors, and a plot line that makes it clear that both sides are as complicated as they are culpable, Raz and Issacharoff have taken the black-and-white narrative of Israel and its enemies and spun it into all kinds of gray. In war, the show insists, you don’t know if you are right or wrong. You only know your orders.

Raz plays Doron, the commander of an undercover mista’arvim unit who has retired from action and is attempting to bury his demons by working a vineyard in central Israel with his wife. When the unit gets wind that a Palestinian arch-terrorist Doron thought he had killed is in fact alive and hiding underground, he agrees to rejoin them for one final mission.

The terrorist, Abu Ahmed, is responsible for the deaths of 116 Israelis, but he also has a little brother who is about to get married. In the show’s pilot episode, the team has a hunch that Abu Ahmed will risk his cover in order to attend the wedding, so they cook up a complicated undercover mission to infiltrate the hall where the celebration will take place. By the end of the episode, Doron, out of shape after 18 months crushing grapes and living the easy life, gasps for breath as he chases Abu Ahmed down a dark back alley in a village north of Ramallah. He keels over, pulls his weapon, and fires. But the terrorist is too fast, and much like in Raz’s dream, the bullets fall short. Abu Ahmed yet again slips away.

“I know that I had post-traumatic [issues],” Raz says of his time after the army while sipping carrot juice at a bustling Tel Aviv café. Trim but heavy-jowled, he is sporting the same second-day stubble that his character wore all season. “And you know, to heal trauma, many people go to a psychologist and they talk about the trauma. But I didn’t just talk about it. I relived it in the show, again and again.”

Raz’s mission may have been personal, but Fauda has struck a nerve with millions of other Israelis. It has seen week-on-week growth on the Israeli cabler YES, and is now the most-watched program in that platform’s 15-year history. YES, which holds the Israeli rights to HBO programs and other major dramas, reports that Fauda grabbed 60 percent of Israeli viewers, while Game of Thrones and House of Cards, both of which have passionate followings in Israel – earned only 31 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

Weekend news magazines have splashed the show’s characters on their covers, and the program’s white-knuckle plot twists – including suicide bombings, hostage negotiations, and all the other things that Middle Eastern nightmares are made of – are parsed out over office water coolers and in cafés.

“[Fauda is] more than a television event, Fauda is also a political event,” a critic wrote in the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot on May 4. “It’s much more than a successful action drama: It is authentic, honest, and painful.”

The program was embraced by nearly every television critic in the country; even the staunchly right-wing, pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom called it “relevant, exact, and thrilling,” and a piece on popular web portal walla.co.il called it “an almost perfect depiction of the insane entanglement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

But Israel has had cult-status TV hits before. Long before In Treatment and Homeland earned Emmys for wowing U.S. audiences, their Israeli predecessors B’Tipul and Hatufim were breaking their own records on Israeli screens. What sets Fauda apart is that, like its storyline, the craze isn’t stuck on one side of the border. Viewers in Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza are also hooked on the show.

Raz and Issacharoff have allowed full episodes of Fauda to flourish on YouTube and downloading sites, which has created a major following among Palestinian audiences. Arab Israelis, who make up 20 percent of Israel’s population but rarely watch its mainstream television offerings, are also tuning in, and sharing their feedback – some good, some bad, but almost all of it passionate – on online message boards and Raz’s own Facebook page.

Posts on the official Facebook page for the show are peppered with comments from both Arabs and Jews. One Arab viewer, born in northern Israel and now living in Jerusalem, called Fauda, “A sad reality,” adding, “I hope the day will come when Arabs and Jews can live together in peace.”

On Raz’s Facebook page, the praise continues. An Israeli from just outside Tel Aviv wrote to Raz, “We watched the entire series in three days. Because we couldn’t excuse our ignorance anymore. Well done! A wonderful show. The saddest part? The similarity. The enemy who seems loving and the loving one who seems to be the enemy … The humanity you showed in these well-rounded characters tugs on all the heartstrings, on both sides of the [separation] barrier.”

Even the militant organization Hamas, which is given a blistering treatment in the show, has inadvertently boosted ratings. Hamas posted a notice on its own website decrying the show as Israeli propaganda, but in doing so included a hyperlink to a site where the episodes could be streamed for free.

Because the show’s dialogue is so heavy in Arabic, and the cast features so many beloved Palestinian actors, the show has resonated with Arabs on both sides of the Green Line. And in doing so, it has shown them Israeli soldiers who are not just enemy combatants, but fully-formed characters with siblings, stunted love affairs, and dignities they wish to protect. They are in Palestinian streets and speaking in Palestinian dialects, but beneath their deep cover there are rich and compelling backstories.

“This show cut me to my bone,” one young Arab woman wrote on Raz’s Facebook page. “It’s shocking,” she said, explaining that she had never looked at either Jews or Arabs in the way the show portrays them. “I felt like it gave me a slap in my face, and I felt it in my soul.”

For Issacharoff, who reports routinely from the West Bank and is regarded in Israel as one of the nation’s most respected analysts on Arab affairs, Fauda was a chance to force Israelis and Palestinians to look more closely at each other.

“I’m trying to educate Israelis, to give them more knowledge about these soldiers and the way they fight, and I’m also trying to tell the story of Palestinians. The average Israeli, when he hears the word ‘Palestinian,’ he just thinks terrorist. I’m an Israeli and a Jew, but because of my personal background I know there is much more to the story of both sides,” he says.

Many of the show’s scenes gnaw at Israeli taboos about ethics and reverence for the military. In a country where nearly everyone is a soldier and every year seems to bring a new war, even most left-leaning citizens see the army as their protector. While Fauda never challenges this narrative, it does scratch relentlessly at Israelis’ image of their soldiers, digging beneath the uniform to reveal the knotty realities below.

In episode seven, deep into a subplot that sees Doron and his team going rogue and kidnapping a Palestinian sheikh to save one of their own soldiers, Nurit, the unit’s sole female member, starts to question whether the moral potholes she is being asked to maneuver are worth it. She steps outside of the team’s safe house, her pretty face streaked with tears, and turns to Avichai, a grizzled older member of the team, to ask him for advice.

Nurit: I don’t know how you guys do it. How?

Avichai: Did you ever see a fight dog get an order to attack? Did you, Nurit?

Nurit: Yes … he gets the command and immediately attacks.

Avichai: Exactly. He does it immediately. Nothing else matters to him. He pounces with the aim to kill. He doesn’t care if his head gets chopped off doing it. We, Nurit, are just like those attack dogs. That’s how we were trained …We were trained not to think. You know why? Because if I stop to think about [my son] for just a split second, I’ll become petrified with fear. I won’t be able to move.

Nurit: I don’t want that to happen to me. It’s like being dead.

Avichai: Then you don’t belong here. You’re putting us at risk.

The show is equally blistering in its handling of Palestinian characters. In a later episode, Abu Ahmed – cornered, desperate, and with his legacy at risk – decides that the life of his own daughter is less important than the execution of a mission. He issues a near-unspeakable order, and his subordinate, a pimpled Palestinian teen who reeks of unchecked ambition, waffles under the weight of what he is being asked to carry out. But then he remembers his training. Like an attack dog, he pounces with the aim to kill.

“You see that everybody is much more complicated than the posters we like to show,” Raz says, sitting in a Tel Aviv café just days before the finale of Fauda’s first season is set to air. “It’s not just the bad guys are the bad guys and the good guys are the good guys. The narrative is Israeli, yes, but if there’s a terrorist, he may be a scumbag and I may hate him, but he still has a wife and he has kids, and what he does affects his family. It’s here that you get the real story.”

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH THE ‘FAUDA’ SCREENWRITER

‘Fauda’ screenwriter faces his next chaotic challenge: BDS on American campuses

Fresh from his success on the Israeli TV show, Moshe Zonder is teaching a screenwriting course at Rutgers University

By Curt Schleier
JTA
October 3, 2018

(JTA) Moshe Zonder noticed it quickly: “My students are completely serious. They are writing. They are doing the assignments. All of them. It’s great teaching here.”

Zonder shouldn’t be that surprised. For an aspiring screenwriter, who better to study with than the man who wrote the entire first season of “Fauda” – the controversial international Israeli hit that airs on Netflix in the United States?

Zonder is spending the fall semester teaching a course called Screenwriting and Television at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It’s part of the Schusterman Visiting Israeli Artists Program, which brings Israeli artists to American universities and other cultural institutions.

“Fauda,” whose second season launched worldwide in May, is the Arabic word for chaos. And that’s what viewers experience. It is centered on an elite Israeli undercover military unit whose members pose as Arabs, cross into the West Bank, and use harsh and often deadly violence to root out terrorists. It’s at once exciting and depressing, leaving the impression that there is no hope of a peaceful resolution to the contentious divide.

Zonder was involved in the show from the beginning, when creators Lior Raz (who also plays the show’s lead character, Doron Kavillio) and Avi Issacharoff first tried to sell it. The process took over four years, Zonder said in a telephone interview.

The reluctance of Israeli networks to air the show is perhaps understandable. The trio had created a story arc that involves a morally compromised Israeli counterterrorism unit that lives by its own rules, indiscriminately shooting Palestinians, invading their homes and kidnapping them.

What’s most frightening is that “Fauda” seems to reflect the reality on the ground. It has been reported that Raz served in Duvdevan, an elite commando force known for posing as Arabs. Zonder spent years as an investigative reporter covering the Mossad and the Shin Bet, Israel’s security services.

“Of course the world we describe is totally realistic, although the characters are from our imagination,” Zonder said.

“Fauda” also has been noted for putting a human face on Arabs living in the West Bank, including terrorists. Zonder was a big part of that daring move.

“I felt – how to say?” Zonder then asked his wife in Hebrew to translate a phrase. “I don’t know exactly how to say this in English. Members of Hamas didn’t exist as real human beings [for some Israelis], and I wanted them to have a wife and kids they loved that they cannot [visit and] see. It is a motive [for their behavior] that you can understand.

“This was something of a revolution. There were no such characters in TV before.”

Zonder said it was his intention to humanize them.

“The creators all went along with me,” he said. “We all felt this way.”

In his view, the show has another distinguishing characteristic.

“There isn’t any hero in the sense of a good guy or a bad guy,” Zonder said. “Life is more complicated. There is a protagonist and an antagonist – Doron is the protagonist and Abu Ahmad [Hisham Suliman] is the antagonist.

“It’s not that Doron is good and Abu Ahmad is bad. … It was important for me as an Israeli to show that members of the Hamas military wing have their families and their motives. They are not [totally] evil. This is the basis of the DNA of the first season of ‘Fauda.’”

The show has been praised for this refreshing perspective and equally for its gripping plot. Palestinian writer Yasmeen Serhan wrote in The Atlantic in June that, despite her qualms with watching a show about the conflict from an Israeli perspective, it is “binge-worthy TV.”

“Fauda” was a surprise hit in Israel and, subsequently, in much of the rest of the world.

“The settlers loved it. Even Hamas,” Zonder said. “Their spokesman posted online that ‘the Zionists could not kill us in the field, so they’re killing us on TV.’ Then they put a link to the first episode on their website.”

In March, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel insisted that Netflix drop the series, claiming it “promotes and legitimizes the war crimes committed by death squads.” It may, in fact, do the exact opposite, and give even the staunchest Israeli supporter pause about tactics used by the Israeli military.

Before “Fauda,” Zonder wrote the multi-award-winning docudrama “Sabena Hijacking: My Version,” about the 1997 hijacking of a Sabena Airlines flight and the rescue of its passengers. It was Israel’s entry in the 2015 Academy Awards’ best documentary race.

Between classes, he’s at work writing another docudrama, about the Mossad’s Operation Wrath of God (aka Operation Bayonet) – the effort to kill the terrorists responsible for the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre (it was depicted onscreen in Steven Spielberg’s film “Munich”).

Zonder came to Rutgers at about the same time the federal government reopened its case charging that the school failed to respond to discrimination aimed at Jewish students. A suit by the Zionist Organization of America alleges that organizers of a pro-Palestinian event singled out Jewish students by charging them admission for the free event.

If BDS protesters were to show up when he speaks at Rutgers, Zonder said he wouldn’t argue with them.

“I must tell you I’m really not a hero, but I would like to meet with [them],” he said. “I’m prepared to hear what they have to say in case they are ready to listen, too. Otherwise not.”

 

WHAT CRITICS LEFT AND RIGHT GET WRONG ABOUT ‘FAUDA’

What Critics Left and Right Get Wrong About ‘Fauda’
The show’s depiction of visceral hatred and common humanity makes it truly great
By Josef Joffe
Tablet magazine
June 11, 2018

If a Jew sympathetic to Israel and a pro-Palestinian critic writing for the Guardian both dislike the Netflix hit Fauda, now in its second season, it can’t be all bad. In fact, it is a series that like Homeland and Breaking Bad has cracked the mold and pushed the genre into uncharted TV territory.

Which binge watcher could have predicted the bizarre success of a shoot-‘em-up where they speak only Hebrew and Arabic, with tiny subtitles in English? Made with a modest budget by U.S. standards, Fauda (Arabic for “chaos”) does without Hollywood’s bag of shticks. There are no romantic vistas like Breaking Bad’s New Mexico skies–morning, day and starry night. Just the dusty roads of the West Bank and the treacherous warrens of Nablus. Why plunge into the nightmare of Middle East politics where, no matter how gingerly you tread, you are bound to offend one or the other side?

Writing in Tablet, Simon Israel Feuerman, pooh-poohs Fauda for showing the wrong kind of Jews. These are neither the “gentle, learned scholars“ his mother taught him to revere, nor the ”new Zionist heroes negating the old nebbishy Jewish stereotypes.“ Fauda’s main character, Doron, a member of an IDF hit team operating in the West Bank, is merely a “curious new form of the Jew as shlemiel.” He is a confused, angry dude who should be in therapy instead of roaming the Kasbah of Nablus with a Glock in his waistband.

Doron’s wife cheats on him with a colleague, and he takes up with Shirin, a proud Palestinian princess right out of A Thousand and One Nights, but with an M.D. degree and a perfect command of French. Blindly obsessive in his quest to take down the Hamas or ISIS bad guy du jour, Doron keeps violating his commander’s orders, botching the team’s missions and leaving a trail of mayhem behind. Feuerman calls him a “shmendrik,” a bungler and boob.

Yet Doron, like so many flawed heroes, is anything but a shmuck, to add yet another sh-word. Hounded by demons, he just has to kill the abominable Hamas top operative Abu Ahmad, aka “The Panther,” in the first season. In the second, he goes after the self-appointed ISIS leader, al-Makdasi. An aside: The murderous Makdasi (Firas Nassar) makes a better heart-throb with his moist eyes and seductive smile than Omar Sharif in his glory days..

To do what he has to do–to avenge his father, who has been decapitated by Makdasi on camera, Doron lies, betrays, and tortures. Meanwhile, his buddies, only slightly less adrenaline-driven, regularly go mano-a-mano with one another, fired up by jealousy or rivalry. The only balanced person in the anti-terror group is a woman, Nurit. A taciturn pro, she kills out of necessity, not fear or fury.

Shlemiels and shmendriks are victims, predestined losers. They don’t set elaborate traps, nor do they threaten their captives with immolation to make them talk. This is the West Bank, not a shtetl in the Pale where Jews had no choice but to cower before the Cossacks. These “shlemiels” are in fact third-generation Zionists who fight like their forefathers did–except with drones and data bases, not with home-made Sten machine guns.

Writing in the Guardian, Rachel Shabi, an Israel-born critic of Israel, gets it wrong, too–or “right” if you believe in the moral obtuseness of the Israelis and the justice of the Palestinian cause. Yes, the series makes an effort at evenhandedness, Shabi concedes. But it is still “overwhelmingly narrated from an Israeli viewpoint.” The “Israeli occupation is nowhere to be seen–there is no wall, no settlers, no house demolitions [and] none of the everyday brutalities of life under occupation.”

This is a generic critique that affirms the author’s political bona fides. Yet to castigate Fauda for ignoring the occupation, which is actually the backdrop for every episode, is like faulting Richard III for failing to condemn the squalor and misery of 15th century England. These were indeed nasty times. But Shakespeare wanted to make a different point. Richard is about treachery, murder and unbounded ambition–about universal human traits.

For Fauda, the occupation is a given, hence not the core of the story. What distinguishes the series from a run of the mill tale of Good & Evil, is its ambivalence and its ever-changing perspective as the narrative switches back and forth between Israelis and Palestinians. That is its claim to originality and excellence.

How shall we count the ways?

To begin, the protagonists look, walk, dress and speak the same, with Palestinians and Israeli switching smoothly from Hebrew to Arabic, and vice versa. Their common bond are those classic Arabic swear words centering on the sexual depravity of one’s mother. It doesn’t require a subtle mind to get the subtext: Look how alike we are.

Nor does Fauda squelch the voices of the Palestinian. They keep articulating their grievances and their claims to justice. They love their children, and they cry over their fallen. No black and white hats here. The Jews defend their homeland; the Arab kill because they want one. Both sides believe they are in the right, though the Hamas types also invoke Allah. Both feast and fornicate. They have families and rebellious sons. In-group power struggles keep overwhelming the existential national conflict. They go after each other as they plot their next attack on the enemy.

Those uber-clever Israelis regularly screw up–out of ignorance or arrogance. They form friendships with their next-door Muslim neighbors. Captain Gabi Ayub, who directs the Israeli team, develops a respectful, indeed affectionate relationship with Abu Maher, the head of Palestinian Preventive Security, one of the Palestinian Authority’s many domestic spy agencies. Ayub and Abu Maher share intelligence over cups of high-octane Arab coffee, trying to figure out how to best their common foe, be it Hamas or ISIS. To drive ISIS from the West Bank, even Hamas cooperates with the Israelis.

There is no insoluble enmity, the second season whispers–though interspersed with unimaginable cruelty. There is visceral hatred, but also a common humanity, which is a far cry from Rachel Shabi’s “Blame Israel” stock-in-trade. These operatives pontificate about blood-for-blood, honor and vengeance, but they are all caught in a conflict that deforms their souls. Israeli hasbara–PR–Fauda ist not.

“I won’t watch Fauda,” avers Feuerman in his closing sentence. You will watch it, once you turn on the first episode and binge your way through the second season. With Kevin Spacey having been fired from House of Cards, there is nothing more gripping on the screen than Fauda. Alas, it will take a few months before the third season is released. The best way to suffer through the wait is to re-watch Homeland, which is based on the Israeli series Prisoners of War.

(Josef Joffe teaches international politics at Stanford)

 

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