‘Fauda’ makes Israeli-Palestinian conflict a must-see TV hit

Rona-Lee Shim’on in a scene from ‘Fauda,’ an action series based on the tedium of the never-ending Mideast conflict. Netflix calls it a ‘global phenomenon’ available in 190 countries. Season 2 will be released on May 24. (Netflix via AP)
Updated 16 May 2018

‘Fauda’ makes Israeli-Palestinian conflict a must-see TV hit

  • Co-creator Lior Raz: “I think that’s the secret of the show — everyone can connect to their narrative and find something to identify with.”
  • Even with a primarily Arabic dialogue, it has become a hit in Israel, winning awards and accolades for humanizing both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

JERUSALEM: When the Israeli creators of the Netflix show “Fauda” first came up with its concept, they doubted whether an action series based on the never-ending Mideast conflict would make for must-see TV.
“Why would somebody want to watch in their spare time something that is right outside their door?” pondered Avi Issacharoff, a longtime Arab affairs journalist in Israel. “We wanted it to be realistic, but we didn’t know if people who live with this crap 24/7 would be interested.”
But even with a primarily Arabic dialogue, it became a hit in Israel, winning awards and accolades for humanizing both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
It surprisingly also garnered fans among Palestinians and other Arabs before earning acclaim in Hollywood for depicting the drama of the conflict and its human cost on both sides. No less a thriller authority than Stephen King lauded it on Twitter as “all killer and no filler.”
Netflix, which doesn’t release viewership numbers, calls it a “global phenomenon” available in 190 countries. Season 2 will be released on May 24.
Season 1 chronicles the adventures of an undercover Israeli commando team who immerse themselves in the heart of Palestinian society to capture a terrorist behind a wave of suicide bombings.
In addition to the shootouts and chases, it also delves into the politics and personal drama of the commandos and terrorists, depicting their motivations and family lives, often in a sympathetic manner.
The creators, though they identify as Zionist Jews, don’t shy away from showing the uglier sides of the West Bank occupation and the struggles of the other side. They even look to smash one of the greatest taboos of all, exploring the possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian romance.
“I think that’s the secret of the show — everyone can connect to their narrative and find something to identify with,” said co-creator Lior Raz, who also plays the lead role of Doron Kavillio. “I just got a message from someone in Turkey who said she hated Israeli soldiers but now understands the complexities better, and some Israelis have also begun to understand the Palestinians better.”
Though the plot is fictional, many elements mirror that of Raz’s own life. He too was an undercover commando who carried out operations similar to those depicted in the show, and during his military service he had a girlfriend who was killed by a Palestinian attacker — like one of the characters.
He turned to acting after a stint as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bodyguard. A chance encounter with Issacharoff, a childhood friend, spawned the idea for a show that combined their backgrounds. At first, Israeli distributors didn’t want to touch it. Ultimately, the YES satellite network ran a few episodes and then extended its run after it became a local sensation.
Raz said the most he had hoped for was that it would perhaps inspire an American spinoff series, following hits like “Homeland,” “Hostages” and “In Treatment” that were based on Israeli productions. But Netflix went a step further, running it as-is in its original Hebrew-Arabic form.
Raz said he credits the success of “Narcos” for opening the door to non-English language programming in the United States. Netflix has already commissioned Raz and Issacharoff to write two new shows for them.
Einav Schiff, a TV columnist for the Yediot Ahronot newspaper, said the natural interest in Israel and the Middle East was not the primary source of the show’s success.
“Bottom line, it is good TV. It’s what you would come to expect from American and British productions. It’s what an action show should look like,” he said.
Delving into such sensitive terrain, though, has not come without its critics. Hamas militants have blasted it as Zionist propaganda. The anti-Israel BDS boycott movement says it aims to “whitewash the occupation” and has called on Netflix to remove it.
Such criticism seems likely to grow given the recent bloodshed on the Gaza border, where Palestinians have tried to breach the fence with Israel and dozens have been shot dead.
Even more moderate Arab voices have been off put by the lovefest for “Fauda,” the Arabic word for “chaos.”
Columnist Sayed Kashua said the series gave Israelis a sense of superiority by claiming it was popular with Arabs, while it served their own narrative.
“You already have military victories and cultural control in marketing the Israeli occupation policy: At least give the Palestinians the option of hating ‘Fauda,’” he wrote in Haaretz. “There is nothing in ‘Fauda’ that addresses the reality in the territories.”
In a case of life imitating art, students at the Palestinian Beir Zeit university in the West Bank captured footage in March month of undercover Israeli commandos arresting the head of the student council there. Israeli TV news broadcasts billed it as a real-life ‘Fauda’ scene.
The chief antagonist of Season 1, Abu Ahmad, is based on Sheikh Ibrahim Hamed, a Palestinian militant convicted of murdering 54 Israelis. But the Arab-Israeli actor who portrayed him tried to downplay comparisons to the contemporary conflict.
“I think some people are confused. This is art. It’s not real,” Hisham Suliman said with a chuckle. “In reality, there are no superheros.”

Muse: Singer-songwriter Gaya talks storytelling and creativity

Updated 52 min 29 sec ago

Muse: Singer-songwriter Gaya talks storytelling and creativity

DUBAI: Dubai-based singer-songwriter, vlogger and content creator Gaya (Gayathri Krishnan) talks storytelling, creativity, and experimentation in a conversation with Arab News.

If you want your voice heard, build your own microphone, your own channel, your own soapbox. When you’re young you feel like the world owes you a stage, a chance, a shot. But with time you realize that the dream opportunity, whatever it is, the surest way to get there is to create that opportunity for yourself.

Music inspires me to do most things in my life. It really sets the tone for everything I do and I am. My exploration as a creative person started with music, but over time it has taken me into the spaces of film and design. Whatever the medium, though, a need to be creative and tell a story is what drives me.

Getting into the vlogging space has been extremely rewarding as it has a semblance of the immediacy that a live performance has; you’re connecting with people in real time and you’re breaking the third wall and putting yourself out there. The space feels familiar to me and brings together all my loves — music, shooting and editing films, and telling stories.

I don’t see my work as separate from my life or who I am. It is a very intrinsic part of my existence, so being creative is something I’m engaged in most of the time. I’m proud of having figured out how to make a living by doing all the things that I love and not having to limit myself to doing only one thing or being only one thing.

A lot of my work is autobiographical to some degree. It gives me great joy to be able to have a record of my life and be able to stay present in the moment through the pursuit of my work. I love that I am the boss of my own time and have the privilege and pleasure of working for myself. Most of all, I love that the intent of any idea that I work on is to be able to connect with people on an emotional level.

Every time I travel, I feel like I’m getting to live an alternate reality. I try to have an experience as close to a local as possible, making sure to carve out days to do the mundane things I would do in my own city. This really feeds my creative process in so many ways and many unfinished songs have been completed during my travels. I love traveling for extended periods of time as opposed to short trips because I feel like the best songs and writing come from that pivot point between comfort and discomfort. And when I travel, that oscillation is constant and really gets my creative juices flowing.

I move from project to project with a certain level of uninhibitedness. This somehow leads people to believe that everything I do is locked into some of kind of well-thought out strategy, but in reality every day is pretty much an experiment.

The biggest influence on me as a person has been watching my parents’ love and appreciation for music while I was growing up. Their ability to take anything we were listening to and appreciate every note, every nuance, every instrument, the timbre of the singer’s voice… It was a masterclass in music appreciation. It taught me and my siblings at an early age about the value of art and creativity in the world and how much of a two-way street it is: That as much as one must create for oneself, a perceptive audience is an essential part of any art form made for public consumption.

I admire any artist who isn’t afraid of going against what they set out to do when they started. I think the biggest disservice you can do to yourself as an artist is to say, “I do this one thing.” As great as it is to have a signature style that distinguishes you, it also important to not let it box you in.

My husband is also my music producer. In our relationship, the music came before the love and the marriage, so music has sort of been the cupid in our story. I think what makes it work is that I have always felt an immense sense of trust with him as a producer; that he too, wants the best for these songs. So when we’re both setting out with the same intention, everything else is gravy. We have learned to communicate well with each other and are able to both stand our ground, have both our voices heard and still love each other no matter how heated the creative arguments may get.

There’s still such conditioning around what a woman ought to be and what her role is, and it’s the root of so many problems. “Ambition” in a woman, for example, is seen firstly as something that needs to be talked about or pin-pointed and secondly, and most annoyingly, as some kind of negative, cut-throat thing; a quality that shouldn’t be possessed by women. I’m hoping to continue to voice my opinion when I feel like I’m being boxed into some archaic idea of what a woman ought to be.

A lot of men seem to be shaken and a bit confused about how they figure in a world where women are demanding their rightful place in various spheres. Very few men are happy to engage in a dialogue about this without feeling like we are on opposite sides of the table, but by getting involved they can help move the needle as opposed to drawing more lines in the sand. We need to get on the same page to actually move forward.