Hit TV Show 'Fauda' Offers Angle on Conflict With Palestinians That Israelis Usually Prefer Not to See

Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts
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A scene from 'Fauda.' True to life, gripping and depressing
Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts

Each of the 12 episodes of “Fauda,” an Israeli action-drama series on the Israeli-Palestinian rift, that takes place in the very here-and-now, opens with a disclaimer: that it is “a work of fiction, and not based on facts.” This in itself sort of prods the viewer to disbelieve it and seek grains of truth in the soil of the on-screen action.

“Fauda” means, literally, “chaos” in Arabic. It was a general term for what was going on in the occupied Palestinian territories (a.k.a Palestine, the West Bank, Judea and Samaria, Greater Israel or The Land of Our Forefathers) before 1987, when it became an intifada (of which we have had opus 1 and 2, and are gearing up for 3, God forbid). More specifically, it is the code word of alert in a particular Israeli undercover unit operating in the territories, meaning that their cover has been blown and they must “act” or “abort” and flee immediately. In both instances it means, “hell has just broken loose.”

It has been common knowledge, at least since the mid-1990s, that in order to maintain its control over the Palestinian territories, the IDF must resort to a sort of overtly black op tactic. Volunteers who served in elite fighting units and are willing and ready to assume an Arab guise – false biography, alias, language, manners, looks – infiltrate into the fabric of life on the West Bank with the aim of providing firsthand intelligence and act with lethal efficiency if need be.

To clarify – though any clarification is a sort of obfuscation: Such units are anything but covert, as their existence is openly confirmed; and yet they certainly fall under the category of “black op” stuff by the very nature of their activities.

That is the fertile ground that spawned the 12 episodes of the first season of “Fauda” which just completed its run on the Israeli channel Yes Action. Israelis can still binge-watch it on Yes VOD. A second season is in the planning stages, and talks are underway for the series to be broadcast as is – not as a remake – both in the U.S. and Europe.

Don’t feel deterred from watching it for fear you may not be able to follow the Hebrew. Most of it is in Arabic anyway (there are Hebrew subtitles), as more than half the characters are Palestinian and settings are in the Palestinian territories. That was, by the way, one of the series’ distinctions in Israeli TV viewing: For the first time the Israeli mainstream viewer was presented, on prime time TV, with a not-too-distorted mirror of his or her reality in a language that has – regretfully – a mainly menacing sound to many Israeli ears.

The series is the brainchild of Lior Raz (writing and acting as the main character) and Avi Issacharoff (at one time a Haaretz reporter on Palestinian matters). Both have considerable mileage in double-and-triple lives on the other side of the Israeli-Palestinian divide – Raz as a member of one of those undercover units, and Issacharoff who has been covering this very confusing reality on a day-to-day basis. The expressed aim was to present the everyday reality that most Israelis prefer not to see up close, and instead of simplifying it in black and white, to show that it is made up of more than 50 shades of all-too-human gray that can explode at any moment into the most crimson red.

Tangled story

It is basically the story of a showdown in the making (and remaking). The team leader of an undercover crypto-Palestinian unit (Doron Kavillio, played by Raz) has retired after assassinating a Hamas arch-villain, Abu Ahmed, a.k.a. “The Panther,” and is leading an uneasy family life producing wine. When it transpires that The Panther is very much alive and planning to unleash another wave of atrocities on the Israelis, Doron succumbs to the temptation to enlist again and execute the “second killing” of his now personal nemesis. What was, at least theoretically, a national-security affair in which there are good and bad guys, with “our” side being “good” and the “other” (i.e. Palestinian) being “bad,” becomes a tangled story of conflicted individuals who are all, in their own way, very human, meaning deeply flawed.

There are Doron’s team members – a family of men, all-for-one and one-for-all, with possible male rivalry issues – and their assorted nearest and dearest, women and children included and extracting all expected emotional value. There is one woman, as befits any action series; she is Nurit, played by Rona-Lee Shimon. There are the Palestinians with their warring political factions and family entanglements, which are more convoluted due to characters living in constant hiding and fear. Waves of personal and political confusion flow constantly from one side to another, and the viewer finds himself constantly tempted to identify with the other side of the conflict from the one he or she lives in.

The series was created by Israelis who know what is really going on. As such it takes the Israeli side for granted and does not try to present a “balanced view” of the conflict. It assumes – rightly in my mind – that for Israeli viewers, the dice is loaded for the home (Israeli) team. As a result, it sometimes looks as though the Palestinian side of the story is presented with an extra dose of understanding and compassion. If indeed this is so, it is a belated and much needed redress: It is high time for Israelis to accept that there are human beings on the other side as well.

The series was shot in Israel in Hebrew and Arabic, with the cast and crew being Israeli and Palestinian, during the days of the war in Gaza last summer. The production teams for the “Tyrant” and “Dig” series – which also take place in the Middle East – fled. But the “Fauda” team remained on location in Kafr Qasem, as if to prove that while it claims to be “fiction,” it is an extremely gripping and terribly depressing story based on true and painful facts – very well made and brilliantly acted. And hell keeps breaking loose around us as we watch.