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Fauda brings Israel’s ‘shoots and cries’ genre to the Netflix generation

Poster of Fauda, Israeli political thriller television series [Wikipedia]
Poster of Fauda, Israeli political thriller television series [Wikipedia]

There is a phrase in Hebrew which literally translates as ‘shoots and cries’ (or ‘shooting and crying’). As explained by literature scholar Karen Grumberg, “the Zionist solider, a man with a conscience, loathes violence but realises he must act violently to survive; the dilemma causes him to weep while pulling the trigger. Looking inward, he despairs at the violence he feels compelled to enact primarily because he fears his own moral corruption”. This ‘shoots and cries’ culture has not been limited to literature – it can also be found in critically-acclaimed Israeli films like “Waltz with Bashir”, or even Hollywood productions like “Munich”. And now, there is a ‘shoots and cries’ creation for the Netflix era: “Fauda”.

Written by actor Lior Raz and journalist Avi Issacharoff, “Fauda” was first broadcast in Israel in 2015, before being picked up by Netflix in late 2016. The show focuses on a team of so-called mistaravim – Israeli soldiers who conduct undercover raids in Palestinian communities to carry out arrests or extrajudicial executions – and the Palestinian fighters they are targeting.

“Fauda” has been showered with plaudits – The New York Times chose it as one of the best series of 2017 – for both its entertainment value and, in the words of tech site SnapMunk, for the perception of the show as “an authentic reflection of the complexity within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”. As American columnist Dan Senor put it, interviewing Raz and Issacharoff at an AIPAC conference, “the show has garnered awards not only for its rollercoaster plot and tremendous performances, but also for its in-depth gritty exploration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a very nuanced way”.

Yet for all its supposed innovation, there is something very familiar about “Fauda”, its main actor and co-writer Lior Raz – and his (semi-)fictional alter ego, Doron Kavillio. Raz is himself a veteran of the mistaravim (a BBC report claims Issacharoff is as well, stating “the two friends served together”), joining the army as Israel sought to crush the Palestinians’ anti-occupation uprising that became known as the First Intifada. According to B’Tselem, 70 Palestinians were killed by undercover units between the start of the Intifada and April 1992. Raz apparently told a Friends of the IDF event that “he had to neutralise two terrorists in in his first four months” of service.

But like so many other Israeli writers, actors and artists before him, Raz saw in “Fauda” an opportunity to deal with the “trauma” of his experiences terrorising Palestinians under occupation. “I wanted to get everything off my chest”, Raz told The Canadian Jewish News in March 2017, when asked about his original goal with the show. “We didn’t know it was going to be such a successful thing, even in Israel”, he added. “We thought the only people watching were going to be me and my mother, and Avi [Issacharoff]’s mother”.

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Whether or not the pair were initially quite as unambitious as they have maintained, it is clear that for Raz, the show was a form of therapy. “You do heavy, heavy things [in the mistaravim], and you have to deal with things somehow. This is how I dealt with things. I wrote this show because I wanted to talk about the mental price that warriors pay for their actions”. Examples of the ‘heavy things’ done by Israel’s mistaravim in recent years include killing the cousin of a wanted man in hospital, and shooting a protester in the leg at point blank range.

A repeated theme in the praise heaped on “Fauda” is that the Palestinian fighters are three-dimensional characters, rather than two-dimensional ‘baddies’. But the show’s treatment of the Palestinian characters was, first and foremost, driven by the desire to create good television.

“We wanted to make good drama, and in good drama the bad guy cannot be only bad”, Issacharoff told Haaretz. “Good drama makes the viewer care about the bad guy and shows other aspects of his personality”. Issacharoff added: “Even the devil has a family and terrorists are complex creatures.”

Such views do not, unsurprisingly, help provide the amazing insights into Palestinians’ lives and motivations that some critics have claimed for the show. In fact, it is a testament to just how absent or dehumanised the Palestinians have been to date, in both Israeli and Western television and cinema, that a series like “Fauda” is seen as ground-breaking. As one, cautiously complimentary, review acknowledged, “members of the show’s Palestinian factions do not have the same embattled, contemplative moments that their Jewish counterparts have”. Jonathan Freedland, writing about “Munich”, observed that “the ultimate humanisation is the voicing of doubt. The Israelis are redeemed in the audience’s eyes by their moral anguish”.

Those writing about “Fauda” have shown a striking lack of curiosity in probing why the show has proved so popular with Jewish Israelis (beyond its merits as a tense thriller), suggesting the show’s appeal simply lies in its depiction of the ‘humanity’ of ‘both sides’. Yet to the extent that the Palestinian characters are humanised at all, it is in the safety of a mainstream Israeli framework. As Raz told German paper Jüdische Allgemeine, the narrative of “Fauda” is a Zionist one (“Die Erzählperspektive ist eine zionistische. Wir sind Israelis, Zionisten, und wir lieben unser Land”). At a New Jersey Friends of the IDF meeting last year, Raz proudly declared: “I cannot take out the warrior inside of me. I am a Zionist and I have to protect my family and friends.”

Read: Kashmir and Palestine are punchbags for their occupiers

This does not sound like a man looking to bust societal taboos (and note that the Israeli army’s Kfir Brigade, stationed in the West Bank, is using “Fauda” to teach soldiers Arabic). Indeed, Raz clearly rejected the suggestion put to him by one journalist that in showing Israeli soldiers committing shocking acts of violence he intended to “reveal something uncomfortable” to Israeli viewers. “No”, he answered: “We didn’t do any violent things just because of violence. Everything is just reaction.” The familiar talking point: Israelis react to Palestinian violence. But Raz did not stop there.

“I want to tell you something about [the mistaravim]”, he continued. “Instead of bombing houses and hospitals, this unit is sending four or five people to take out just one person. These soldiers risk their lives instead of bombing and killing innocent people. This is why this unit was created.” Here, speaking to Canada’s CBC, Raz goes out of his way to amplify the ‘purity of arms’ myth central to both Israeli self-justification and international hasbara: that even in the act of killing (which is forced on him/her), the Israeli soldier distinguishes him/herself from the colonised. A unit trained to kill is presented as a unit designed to save lives.

Ironically, the most discomfort “Fauda” has caused Jewish Israelis was via an ad campaign ahead of its recently premiered second season. Overnight, billboards appeared across the country consisting only of Arabic text with slogans like: ‘Get ready’, or, ‘The chaos is about to start’. The ads caused widespread consternation; in one town, residents attempted to cover the sign with bed sheets.

Now, as a global phenomenon, the impact of “Fauda” goes beyond the original Israeli audience, and comes at a valuable time for a state targeted by a growing boycott movement. The show can be easily used, for example, in the service of a familiar trope: Israel as a beacon of democracy in a region of brutality. As Senor put it to Raz and Issacharoff at AIPAC: “What does that say about Israeli society, that a show – that a society that is so transparent, so democratic in all of its messy ways, self-critical, self-questioning, is there a recognition that if you look at all throughout the Middle East, it seems that only Israel could produce a show that is so brutally honest as this one.”

“Fauda” has also proved more than capable of boosting an all-too-common verdict on the ‘Israeli-Palestinian conflict’: that it is complicated. On the one hand, such a description is a banal truism – any issue on that scale is complicated. But to say it’s complicated also serves to marginalise and silence narratives that offer, from Israel’s point of view, a threatening moral clarity. Occupation. Colonialism. Apartheid. The chaos of “Fauda” thus conceals the order of the status quo: a system of military orders and walls, discrimination versus privilege, power asymmetry and colonial agency.

As Diana Buttu told The New Yorker, “in “Fauda”, we do not see the occupation. It is invisible, just as it is in the minds of Israelis. In fact, we never even hear the word”. She added: “We don’t see a single checkpoint, settlement, settlers, or home demolitions. We don’t see any homes being taken over, or land being expropriated or anything of the sort. We see a nice brick wall, not the ugly eight-metre-high one, as the only sign that we are in the West Bank.”

No wonder “Fauda” is one of the most popular Israeli shows of all time. In a society of military service and reserve duty, “Fauda” has a comforting message for this era of consolidated apartheid: as Amoz Oz put it: “I have done many things that I am sorry I had to do, but nothing that I am ashamed of.”

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  • DEADP00L

    Israelis are like the Germans of Nazi Germany, if they dotn see it then its not real. Germans denied the camps existed, until they were made to march through them.

    Thats what its going to take to redeem Israelis. They are going to have to be made to march through the occupation and the open air concentration camps.

    • Kaminoyona

      I never heard of “open air concentration camps” that have shopping malls and five star hotels………..

      Stop the lies the agenda is over.

      • DEADP00L

        ^^^^ Case in point.

        See? I don’t have to do much to be vindicated.

        • Markunator

          So you think that Auschwitz DID have shopping malls and five star hotels?

          • DEADP00L

            I think Nazi Germans and Israelis have a lot in common. One of those commonalities, is the denial that their dehumanized victims suffer. And glorify their abominable acts as acts of heroism instead of evil. Wouldnt want to own the gang raping of a Palestinian child and then shooting her genitals to hide the evidence for example… Thats something they never want people to know about. Much less show on TV…. Or running over a fiver year old little girl or setting babies on fire… we wouldn’t want to show those things…

            Also, since when were there only one time of open air prison?

            Jews in France and Britain weren’t in concentration camps, but they suffered nonetheless and were denied. Jews in America lived with shopping malls and around five star hotels…but they suffered nonetheless and were denied. Jews who lived in Spain lived around villas and boulevards, but they suffered nonetheless and were denied.

            So what exactly do you think your doing by being ‘smart’? Because if Jewish history was any teacher you would know that there are ways of enabling suffering onto millions without needing to actually shove them into ovens.

            Yes, Israelis certainly have far more in common with those who persecuted Jews than they will ever have with Jews who survived.

          • Please spare your comments about Jews. Jews who survived the Holocaust once they were in a death camp were either lucky or somehow collaborated enough to be spared. I know you prefer your Jews to be ghetto Jews who walk into cattle cars, but never again mean never again. Better to be strong and ruthless to defend yourself than submissive and dead. The Arabs chose this war. They easily could have accepted a Jewish state in the Palestine Mandate to go along with TWO planned Arab states (Trans-Jordan and “Palestine”) plus many other Arab states (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, etc.) But they were too greedy. Islam taught them that once Muslims have conquered land, it cannot be controlled by the infidels. So they lost a part of Palestine.

            Sure the Arabs suffer but that is the result of their death Jihad against Israel. Once they accept Israel on Israel’s terms and submit to the victor their suffering will end—just like it ended for Imperial Japan when they surrendered.

          • george

            What on earth are you talking about? Jews who survived were either collaborators or ‘lucky’. You seem to glorify those killed the holocaust to make your argument.

            the palestine mandate was a terrible offer to the local palestinians who lived in the land at the time, in 40 years they had seen a minority 3,000 local jews with whom they lived with peacefully, become 200,000 and get a disproportionate amount of land under that partition.

            You seem to advocate that the only solution is for israel to set the terms and the palestinians to accept anything that they are given, so you disregard the opinions of the international community and international law, from bodies like the UN, to you, foreign relations is simply a question of a survival of the fittest. This stupid ideology is what gave us the treaty of versailles, it is what continues the conflict in israel to this day, if you think these people will give up, after 70 years of fighting against occupation and for their homeland, then you misjudge the situation. True agreements always require compromise on both sides.

            What Assad does to his own people or other arab states do to their own people is completely irrelevant. It is like the argument of a child, saying ‘what i have done is not bad, look at this person doing this other bad thing, its so much worse’ Very immature.

          • How the Arabs treat each other is very relevant because Jews should not be expected to be treated better than that. How can Israel trust that the West Bank would not become another Gaza or Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon. You can take the moral high ground but most Israelis would rather survive than be martyrs as with the Holocaust. As for “World opinion,” it has been pretty crappy for 2,000 years as far as the Jews are concerned and especially during WW2 “international law” provided little protection.

            Your opinion the “Palestinians” got a raw deal in 1948 is deeply flawed. Your ignore the fact that the British and French allocated 99% of the Turkish land to the Arabs and less than 1% to the Jews. The Palestine Mandate was not a terrible offer to the Palestinians (who did not exist at that time, they were just Arabs) because they still got the vast majority of the Mandate (counting both sides of the Jordan).

            You can’t keep subdividing Arabs into supposedly distinct groups that each get their own country. The Palestinians have Jordan and Gaza, I think that is more than sufficient at this point.

            Yes, Israel should set the terms. Can you point to many (any) other conflicts in world history where the victor did not set the terms? The fact is the “conflict” will continue until the Palestinians accept that their goal of conquest of Israel has been defeated and accepts peace on Israel’s terms. That’s how every conflict ends.

            Yes there will be compromise. After WW2 the USA allowed Japan to survive on the USA’s terms. Israel would (I suspect) support Arab states in Gaza and Jordan as the proper lands for the Arabs and would even allow the Arabs in the West Bank to remain with civil rights, but not with national voting rights unless they became citizens. However, violent resisters would have to be removed or killed as in every other conflict in history.

          • george

            You’re making huge generalisations about people, ‘the arabs’ is a mix of so many different groups, if Israel was not so aggressive towards the Palestinians, there would be less animosity. If you oppress people, they will resist for ever. In the 1800s 1900s jewish farmers lived in peace with the palestinian locals – fact. In the early 1900s both sides including the israelis resorted to terrorism, fact – the israelis killed their own prime minister who was thought to be too soft towards the arabs – it takes two to have a compromise and solution.

            You think jordan and gaza is sufficient – what do you base this on? surely the solution is for the people kicked off their land to have somewhere to live with the rest of their communities, in the region, not jordan, but in the occupied territories so that means right of return and 2 state solution on 67 boundaries, that is a perfectly acceptable solution, where the israelis have gained and set the terms from their victory, you think its ok to keep changing the terms after you’ve won the war continually?

          • In the 1800s, Palestine did not exist. It was just part of a province in the Ottoman Empire. Jews were very weak and Arabs also were subject to Turkish control. What you are describing is simply the existence of Jews in many lands. Weak and subject to the whims of local populations and rulers. Yes, sometimes things were relatively good, but then something would happen and the Jews would be falsely blamed and mistreated. The last straw was the Holocaust. Apparently, you are still of the “ghetto Jew” mentality or that is how you prefer your Jews.

            I told you what I based my statement that Jordan and Gaza are sufficient on. They comprise the majority of the land of Palestine and they are already Judenfrei which seems to be a requirement for any possible Palestinian state. Not everyone kicked off their land gets to return. Germans were kicked out of Poland and Czechoslovakia after WW2 and never allowed back. Israel did offer to return the West Bank to Jordan and Gaza to Egypit in 1967 in exchange for peace and then Jordan could created a Palestinian state there. All of the Arabs at the Arab League (Khartoum Resolution) rejected that entirely. The deal is off the table. The Palestinians can be perfectly happy in Jordan, Gaza or subject to their good behavior in Israel.

          • george

            Palestine did not exist? What ridiculous definition do you have of existence, it did not exist as a modern nation state, as many if not most countries that exist now did not. Greece did not exist in the same way that Palestine did in the early 1800s, neither did any Balkan nation, neither did Germany, neither did Italy. So you claiming it ‘didn’t exist’ is just nonsense, you don’t want to see what you don’t want to see because it doesn’t suit your argument – classic bias. The difference that Greece, Italy, Germany supported by foreign powers established statehood. The Palestinians still are to achieve that goal. But your statement ‘palestine didn’t exist’ is just a joke on so many levels, it did not exist as a nation state under the modern 2017 definition but it did exist as a culture, landmass and people to those who lived at the time – evidenced in the historical record with references to Palestine and also historic maps etc

            ‘what you are describing is simply the existence of jews in many lands’ wow, no I am not, I am describing the peaceful coexistence of jews and Palestinians in the region for thousands of years, while jews were persecuted and put in ghettos around the world in Europe and in Russia in Palestine they lived in peace with their local neighbours, they prayed to different gods and lived IN PEACE WITH EACH OTHER. This is difficult for you to accept with your narrative of the ghetto jew, it is you who constantly refers to the ghetto jew and is obsessed with it, and you claim I want jewish people to live in ghettos, based on what evidence? Do Jews live in ghettos in Europe today? Do they live in Ghettos in the state of Israel (not the occupied territories but the state within 67 boundaries) no they do not so do not make false accusations, it just makes you look more pathetic.
            You consistently use Nazi language…. That speaks for itself. What a disservice to the holocaust that you use it in such a way to justify your ridiculous ideas which themselves include oppression.
            You consistently use the childish argument of ‘because so and so did a bad thing’ (German, polish refugees post WW2) then it is ok for Israel to do it. So because there was huge human displacement and suffering post the second world war, it is ok to keep doing it, this makes it justified, this is totally absurd moral logic to anyone but a 5 year old.

            Clearly the arab leadership made mistakes in 48, 67. For you this is enough to punish millions of people who are not represented by the arab leadership 40 years later. Even Hamas has accepted Israel’s right to exist. Give the Palestinians the right of return and a nation state based around the 67 borders and then there will be peace. But you do not care for peace neither do the Israeli leadership if they are not prepared for any compromise. Israel is propped up by the right wing united states and the threat of violence, but all empires fall, and the end of the US empire is coming soon, just look at the internal strife of whats happening in the counry, and its economic relative decline compared to the rest of the world…. Soon US dominance of global politics will be over and then Israel will stand alone, an isolated and apartheid state… And the palestinians finally will have the right to self determination which you claim you care so much about but only for the Israelis…. Hypocrisy that stinks.

          • George, I’m sure you mean well but you are just a naive and borderline delusional liberal. Jews were second class citizens (dhimmi) in Muslim states. Occasionally they had good relations with the government but that could turn on a dime. And then came a Pharoah who knew not Joseph. That is the pre-modern Israel history of the Jewish People.

            I never said Israel was permitted to do things like the Nazis and they never have.

            Yes, sometimes population transfers are the best solution to an intractable conflict over the same land. Your solution, the naive and now thoroughly discredited idea of creating a third Arab state in the West Bank part of Mandatory Palestine.

            Hamas has not accepted Israel’s right to exist except under unacceptable conditions and as a pretext to further action. No thanks. That would like Japan telling the USA after Hiroshima “we want a peace treaty but we reserve the right to recapture some of our islands which are improperly occupied by the USA in the future.”

            Greece did exist as the homeland and state of the Greek people, for thousands of years. It had the same language, same culture, predominantly the same religion. By contrast, there was never a state of Palestine, a Kingdom of Palestine or a country of Palestine comprised of a unique people with their own distinct culture, language and religion. Those are just facts. Prove me wrong.

            Germany and Italy were formed as modern nation-states in the 1800s but they had a long history of prior kingdoms or states going back many hundreds of years. Germans and Italians are distinct peoples with distinct languages and predominant religions.

            Again, “Palestine” was a geographic region with various different and unrelated distinct people. Today, what you call “Palestinian” means Arab. Arabs are a distinct people with their own culture, language and predominant religion.

            So, your analogies fail.

            It is true that at one point in time the Arab people did control Palestine, but that was a long time ago and before that the Jewish people controlled Palestine. Such is the tide of affairs.

            Who do you think is going to replace the USA’s dominance? China or even India? Neither one has a history of anti-Semitism, neither one is a fan of Islam and Israel has good relations with both. If Israel does stand alone one day, that would be something predicted in the Bible and we know that will not go well for those seeking to destroy it.

            Finally, the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians can have their self-determination in Jordan, Gaza and (in limited numbers) as citizens of Israel. That is more than the Kurds get. Why don’t they get a state of their own as they are certainly more entitled to one than the Palestinian Arabs.

    • Antzon 777

      these israelis are all squatters that make the apartheid gov’t of SA look like a well-behaved high school honor student. almost all of them aren’t even the real descendants of the biblical jews. they are as fake as a shanghai rolex.

    • Idiotic statements like this are why you are never going to persuade the Israelis to trust the Arabs enough to create another Palestinian state (to go along with Gaza and Jordan). Let me known when the Jews set up gas chambers and
      Einsatzgruppe; otherwise STFU with your absurd and insulting analogies. Let’s remember the Arabs have killed more Arabs in one year of the Syrian Civil War than Israel has killed Arabs in 100 years.

      • Israelis do not want a Palestinian state, never did, never will. All they want is everything they never had any real claim to, for themselves.
        And the sooner the palestinian realize that and the fact that there is no diplomatic solution to the problem, the better.

        • Israel does not oppose the Palestinian state of Jordan or even the Palestinian state of Gaza, assuming it signs a peace treaty and stops attacking Israel. I doubt you would want to live in a Palestinian state or any Arab state for that matter (unless you are one of them and many of them are fleeing to Europe). If they were peaceful they would have had a state in 1948, dope.

  • Vinegar Hill

    Fauda is nothing more than pure, unadulterated Israeli propaganda. It focuses on one of the worlds most immoral militaries by wrapping up the illegal targetted killings of indigenous Palestinians in a tv series. Typical of the utter despicable and depraved immoral attitudes of Israel.

    • Kaminoyona

      Really? worlds most immoral?
      In the 70 odd years since the Arabs started the war Israel has only killed some 10k “palestinians” Syria once killed 20k in just two weeks….

      Israel actual has shown amazing restraint when dealing with the maniacs any other nation would not have tolerated such attacks from their neighbors with this restraint.

      BTW Arabs are not indigenous to that region.

      History does not lie,Muslims and their supporters do.

      • Lili Londres

        300 000 palestinians were expelled before the first arab soldier entered the conflict in 1948 it was called “The Dalet Plan”, I don’t even mention the terrorist attacks committed against palestinians and british soldiers during the first half of the 20th century. In 1967 Israel attacked Egypt first and talking about “restraint” you zios illegally occupy the West Bank in violation of UN resolution 242 and build settlements in violation of the 4th Geneva Convention. You destroy trees on a daily basis, attack palestinians, steal water, destroy homes, steal land and you talk about “restraint”, and in Gaza you target fishermen and farmers on a daily bais violate the airspace on a daily basis and I don’t even talk about the fact that you keep Gazans on the brink of a humanitarian crisis ‘source Haaretz”

      • Lili Londres

        And about Indigenous Middle East Eye made a study and apparently you european ziosquatters descend from Ancient Turkey and guess what The National Geographic published a study about the descendants of canaanites and sorry it’s not you according to the study it’s levantines (syrians, lebanese and palestinians). And I notice that you don’t talk about the palestinian christians whose churches are vandalized by your friends, whose priests are spat on by your settlers and who are killed by your bullets or by your airstrikes in Gaza. Without mentioning the fact that in the 1948 territories they are discriminated against by 50 laws.

        • Markunator

          “Ancient Turkey”? Citation needed, antisemite. And are you talking about Mizrahi Jews or Ashkenazi Jews?

        • No such study “Lili.” And Palestinians did not exist in 1948, they were Arabs, no different then their fellow Arabs who invaded Israel.

  • For a really good insight into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I would recommend the movies “Omar” or “Bethlehem” (both released in 2013). They are relatively balanced portrays of the reality there, focusing on Palestinians who are made into defectors, willingly or not.

    The endings for both are pretty…bloody though, even a bit depressing.

  • george

    Really good article and analysis.