‘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
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‘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.”


My Ramadan with Safi Enayat: Experiencing the Holy Month in Copenhagen

Updated 21 May 2018
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My Ramadan with Safi Enayat: Experiencing the Holy Month in Copenhagen

  • Safi Enayat came to Copenhagen as a refugee from Afghanistan in 2001
  • This Ramadan, he’s hosting a pop-up iftar with chefs from Baker & Spice Dubai

COPENHAGEN: Safi Enayat came to Copenhagen as a refugee from Afghanistan in 2001 and found a job washing dishes in a restaurant kitchen before working his way up to become head chef and a restaurant owner in his own right. His cooking is a reflection of the diverse cultural influences that have characterized his life, from the traditional Afghan dishes with a modern twist he cooks for friends to the Indian-inspired cuisine served in his restaurant chain dhaba.dk, as well as the international fare he has encountered in Europe. This Ramadan, he’s hosting a pop-up iftar with chefs from Baker & Spice Dubai which aims to attract a mixed crowd of Muslims and non-Muslims to break bread over delicious Arabic food.

Read on to experience Ramadan in the European city in his own words...

Everyday life goes on as normal during Ramadan in Copenhagen because the Muslim community here is not that big. In general, people congregate at the city’s larger mosques to pray and break the fast together. There are a few larger events that I look forward to, such as Iftar på Rådhuspladsen, when everyone gathers in City Hall Square and brings a dish to share with their family and friends. It’s an amazing feeling, sitting on the floor in front of this beautiful venue with people from all cultures — Danish, Afghan, Arabs… usually several hundred people attend. Here, you have the right to enjoy your religion as you want and while Danes might be curious to know why we fast, they are very accepting. Last year one of my Danish friends called during Ramadan to say he was fasting for the day to understand it better. I was touched. I think it showed a lot of respect for my religion, which is something I often find here.

Since coming here, I feel like Ramadan has become more visible, people are more aware of what is going on and more interested in why Muslims are fasting and why they do it for so long. It’s a friendly interest. With the long days at this time of the year, many Muslims in Denmark choose to take some of their summer holidays during Ramadan so they have less work and can enjoy the Holy Month.

We’ll be hosting a pop-up iftar called The Opposite Kitchen with Baker & Spice from June 2 to June 8, which is something new to the city. We’ll invite everyone from all cultures and religions to come and learn about the meaning of Ramadan. For me, the beautiful message behind Ramadan is that when you fast, you can see what it’s like for someone who is starving on the other side of the world and can’t put food on the table, and I think it’s important to understand that. I also think that food is an important way of bringing people together. It’s something we all share and enjoy. I found my way into the Danish community through food, it was an easy way to become a citizen of the city and a part of life here. I’ve been here for so many years that this is home for me now.