The Sensible Transgression of Fauda

Jonathan Shamir

The symmetrical prostration of Muslim men against the backdrop of the acid-green carpeting. The serene cinematography is suddenly interrupted. An Arabic man in need of medical assistance is dragged into the mosque, but just as a congregant moves closer to assist, the whole façade reaches an equally abrupt end. The woman outside in a full burka, who was attempting to peer into the mosque, and the man attempted to prevent her entrance, pull out their guns. The disguised Israeli soldiers get their man with startling efficiency.

The ability of Israeli agents to posture as Palestinians in the opening scene of Netflix series Fauda (Arabic for ‘chaos’) and the interchangeability which recurs throughout the series, with one Palestinian nicknamed ‘the Jew’ due to his lighter complexion and another widower successfully infiltrating a nightclub to commit a suicide bombing, illuminates the novel path which Lior Raz and Avi Isaacharoff’s series treads. Fauda follows the overlapping stories of a former Israeli soldier, Doron, portrayed by Raz himself, and Abu Ahmad, a notorious Hamas operative masterfully portrayed by Hisham Suliman. The rumours of his survival soon bring Doron out of a retirement, away from his vineyard-fantasies of family, and back into the Palestinian Territories.

The arch similarity exploited by Raz and Isaacharoff goes beyond the ethnic similarity between Israelis and Palestinians, back to basics: to their shared status as human beings. The humanisation of both narratives may seem obvious to those uninitiated in the bloody conflict, but in two societies which adamantly refuse to acknowledge the legitimate grievances and desires of the other, Fauda stands out as a truly ground-breaking series. To allow, indeed, encourage the audience to sympathise with the fictional Abu Ahmed, who orchestrated the death of 116 Israeli civilians, is transgressive.

In June 2016, Fauda won six Ophir Awards, the ‘Israeli Oscars’, including Best Drama Series. But its loyalty to Arabic language and Arab narrative has led to unprecedented ripples of success. Raz also claims that “It was also the most-viewed show among Israeli Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. We also know that it was very popular in parts of the Arab world where it was available. And that’s because we are respecting the Arabic language and the Arabic narrative as well. Not all who are perceived to be good are that good and not all who are perceived to be bad are that bad.” The decision to cast Palestinians as the Palestinian characters removes the prospect of any discomfort, and evidently paid dividends for Raz: it is the stakeholders that tell their story, together. The show does not attempt to blunt its fingers by attempting to scratch the worn surface of politics. It instead opts to present two narratives with imperfect protagonists, whose political inclinations stain their familial ties, often with blood. In Fauda, each side could sympathise with and even be its hated counterpart.

On the right-hand side of the Netflix frontispiece, the word ‘Fauda’ is written in Hebrew, and on the left in Arabic. If you want to watch a show that will acquaint you with one of the most complicated geopolitical situations from the human angle, you better be ready to relinquish the comfort of the English language, but this is a fundamental component of the reward of a series which disavows national mythology in favour of gritty realism. The twelve episodes of the first series are available now on Netflix, with the second series already in development.