New TV Series 'Fauda' Explores Idea Tough on Israeli Ears: Terrorist as Human Being

Inspired by the local situation, the program presents a fighter in the IDF's undercover unit chasing a wanted Hamas man. Here, the show’s creators explain why they refrained from moral judgment about the characters.

Gili Izikovich
Gili Izikovich
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A still image from "Fauda," a Yes series about the Mistarvim's pursuit of a Hamas man, February 2015.
A still image from "Fauda," a Yes series about the Mistarvim's pursuit of a Hamas man, February 2015.Credit: Courtesy Yes
Gili Izikovich
Gili Izikovich

For eight years the Israeli security forces pursued Ibrahim Hamed, a resident of the village of Silwad and a senior West Bank Hamas activist, who was suspected of involvement in murdering dozens of Israelis.

He evaded capture more than once. His only weakness was his wife; he wrote her love letters and they even succeeded in conceiving a child.

In 2012 Hamed was given 54 life sentences. And in May the security forces caught him.

The real Ibrahim Hamed inspired the fictitious Tawfik Hamed, one of the protagonists of the series “Fauda,” which Yes TV aired last week.

Tawfik Hamed resides in Silwad, is a terrorist, is in love with and devoted to his wife, is sophisticated and repeatedly evades capture. He also mocks his pursuers, so viewers become hypnotized and hooked, hoping he’ll manage to escape.

In “Fauda” the viewer understands that the situation is becoming increasingly complicated: What looks like the series creators exercising artistic freedom turns out to be deeply rooted in reality.

The creators of the series are Walla website journalist and Arab-affairs commentator Avi Issacharoff (formerly of Haaretz) and actor Lior Raz.

The idea for the series grew out of a chance meeting on the West Bank, when they discovered that each had been thinking for years about a program portraying the Mistarvim, an undercover unit of Israeli combat soldiers disguised as Arabs.

“In the course of my work I was exposed to the activity of the special units, as was Lior under different circumstances,” Issacharoff says. The result of that meeting is “Fauda,” Arabic for “chaos,” which has prompted that evasive and desirable thing called buzz.

It tells of Doron, a former Mistarvim fighter, who decides to return to the unit after discovering that the most wanted Arab terrorist, whom he had caught in the past and who was considered dead, had tricked him and in fact was alive and well.

At the same time - and in a manner not at all typical of Israeli series of this kind - the series tells about that sworn enemy, Tawfiq Hamed, known as Abu Ahmed or the Panther.

Motives and interests on both sides

Both protagonists have motives and interests, both have families and human sides, and both pay an increasingly high price for their desire for revenge and their addiction to adrenaline.

“Fauda” also does several more unexpected things. For example, it discusses both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and uses Arabic on screen, even in the final acknowledgments. The effect is almost confusing.

“We wanted to make good drama, and in good drama the bad guy cannot be only bad,” adds Issacharoff. “Good drama makes the viewer care about the bad guy and shows other aspects of his personality. ... Whether we like it or not, that’s the reality.

“As a journalist I can tell you that sometimes you encounter a Hamas man who tells you frankly that he wants to destroy Israel and murder Israelis, but shortly afterwards, when you’re sitting and talking, you’re still two people who are drinking coffee and singing [legendary Egyptian singer] Umm Kulthum together, and you like one another.

“Even the devil has a family and terrorists are complex creatures. In that sense it really may not be easy for the Israeli viewer.”

The difficulty that Raz and Issacharoff describe is reflected in the work of actor Hisham Suleiman, who plays Tawfiq Hamed. Suleiman says that he searched deeply to prepare for the role.

“The Palestinian resistance movement believes that it can and should do everything possible to liberate Palestine, even extreme things,” he says. “I had to understand why they believe that they can do whatever they want.”

Speaking to the psychology behind the characters, Suleiman says, “I was born and grew up and have lived, and still live, in a Palestinian culture, and the idea of the liberation of Palestinian is familiar to me.

“I try not to judge them. The price of peace is high for both sides but the price of war is higher. I don’t get involved in that, and in the final analysis my job is to play a character, but I understand the psychology of these people.

“The nice thing is that there are no bad guys and good guys in the series; there are characters who aren’t judged negatively or positively.

“To me they seem like someone traveling 1,000 kilometers an hour, and even the tiniest deviation in any direction kills them.”

War as backdrop

The series, which was filmed for the most part in Kfar Qasem, a village 40 minutes northeast of Tel Aviv, was shot last summer, with Operation Protective Edge in the background.

Raz and Issacharoff tell of a good atmosphere and warm hospitality that greeted those being filmed, but the distress at the time comes through to viewers of the program.

“Every action leads to a larger counteraction; every mistake leads to a bigger mistake,” explains Raz. “On both sides there are people who are motivated by a desire for revenge, by adrenaline, and they ignore the price they and their families pay. The mistake increases disproportionately and everyone is motivated by a spirit of combat.

“We wanted to show what disturbs soldiers and fighters: for example, abandoning their friends, the Hannibal directive” — if an Israeli soldier is captured, the main mission becomes rescuing the soldier, even at the cost of wounding him or her – “and the objective is for someone sitting at home to understand what’s happening on the other side of the fence.

“I don’t think that we present good Jews and bad Arabs or vice-versa. We don’t take a stand, but these are intolerable situations.”

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