HBO to Make Drama Based on 2014 Abduction of Three Israeli Teens in West Bank

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Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah.
Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah.

U.S. cable giant HBO is teaming up with Keshet to make a television series based around the abduction and killing of three Israeli yeshiva students in the West Bank in June 2014, an event that ultimately led to that summer’s war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

The new series is built around an imaginary story line involving the investigation into the abduction of the three actual students — Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel — and the reaction to events on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. The series’ fictional hero is an idealistic Shin Bet security service investigator.

The series, which will be produced for an estimated 20 million shekels ($5.3 million), is to be broadcast in both the United States and Israel. The as-yet-untitled 10-episode drama will be filmed in Israel next summer. It’s not yet clear if the drama will be in English or Hebrew.

Although this is HBO’s first joint production with an Israeli company, HBO previously bought the rights to the format of Hot television’s Israeli series “Betipul,” which became “In Treatment” in the United States and starred Gabriel Byrne.

From HBO’s perspective, filming in Israel has its financial advantages, since Israeli production costs are lower than in the United States.

Keshet — the cofranchisee on Channel 2 — has already worked with another U.S. channel, the USA Network, on a series set in Israel, “Dig,” but that wasn’t a success. (Ironically, production on the series had to be moved from Israel due to the outbreak of Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014.)

Other Keshet series have been reworked for foreign audiences to great success, including “Yellow Peppers,” which was remade by the BBC as “The A Word”; “Kfulim” (“False Flag” in English) was sold to Canal Plus in France and worldwide to Fox Television. And then there’s “Hatufim,” which was sold to Showtime in the United States and became “Homeland,” now in its sixth season.

Such cooperation serves to promote Israel’s television industry and follows investment in the Israeli industry by overseas firms. Recent ventures include FremantleMedia’s acquisition of Abot Hameiri and Dutch firm Endemol’s 33% stake in Reshet.

IDF soldiers observing Gaza in August 2014 during Operation Protective Edge.Credit: Reuters

Director Hagai Levi, the creator of “Betipul,” is billed as a cocreator in the new HBO-Keshet series. He is also involved in the Showtime series “The Affair,” which starts its third season next month.

Screenwriter Noah Stollman, who created the Israeli series “Pillars of Smoke,” is also on board as a cocreator.

The new series will be directed primarily by U.S.-born Israeli director Joseph Cedar (“Footnote”). Executive producers include Keshet CEO Avi Nir and Michael Lombardo, the former programming chief at HBO.

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