Fauda — A Crackling Israeli TV Series

If you liked Homeland, you’ll most likely enjoy Fauda.

Homeland, now into its fifth season in the United States, was adapted from an Israeli series. Blending post-9/11 national security issues with human interest stories, it was and is immensely popular.

Fauda, premiered last February on Israeli television, focuses on Israel’s deadly confrontation with Hamas, the Palestinian national movement that has fought three wars with Israel and unleashed torrents of suicide bombers on Israeli civilians.

The Toronto Jewish Film Festival, in conjunction with the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto, is presenting Fauda to a Canadian audience in three parts at Innis Town Hall (2 Sussex Avenue). The 12 episodes, each about 40 minutes in length, will be screened on November 15, 22 and 29 at 2:30 p.m.

Fauda, set in Israel and the West Bank, was created by journalist Avi Issacharoff and actor Lior Raz, who plays the lead role. Ably directed by Assaf Bernstein, it features an accomplished cast of Israeli Jewish and Israeli Arab actors who speak in their native Hebrew and Arabic tongues. (The version to be screened in Toronto will have English subtitles).

In a disclaimer at the beginning of each episode, the producers claim that Fauda is fictional and not based on reality. Take that with a grain of salt. The characters and the incidents may be fictional, but the broad canvas in which it is set is hardly a figment of anyone’s imagination. Israel and Hamas are at war, just as Zionism is pitted against the Palestinian national movement, of which Hamas — an Islamic fundamentalist organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction — is an integral component.

Fauda, taken from the Arabic word for chaos, unfolds against the backdrop of turmoil and violence. The story it tells is a microcosm of the perennial Arab-Israeli conflict, which degenerates to ugly new depths in periodic outbursts

Issacharoff and Raz are skilled dramatists who possess a keen understanding of the dynamics of a volatile dispute, and this ingredient in the mix accounts for the realistic sheen which overlays Fauda, an action-packed thriller.

Terrorism, or the fear of its explosive imminence, is at the heart of Fauda. Doron (Raz), an ex-Israeli commando, runs a winery and seems content with his post-army life. Moreno (Yuval Segal), his former boss, shows up one day and invites him to return to his old job. Moreno is tempted by the offer. He wants to settle the score with Abu Ahmad (Hisham Suliman), a Palestinian terrorist who has blood on his hands. Affiliated with Hamas, he’s responsible for the deaths of 116 Israelis, men, women and children.

Doron is utterly surprised by the news that Abu Ahmad is still alive. Doron, having shot him in a clash, assumed he had been killed. At first, Doron is reluctant to take up arms again. But upon hearing that his old hit team is planning to assassinate Abu Ahmad, he throws caution to the wind and signs up for the assignment, much to the chagrin of his wife Gali (Neta Garty).

Doron is reunited with former comrades — the headstrong Boaz (Tomer Kapon), who happens to be his wife’s younger brother, and Steve (Doron Ben-David), who agonizes over his role as a professional killer.

The squad, commanded by Doron, is composed of six men and one woman who speak idiomatic Arabic fluently, who understand Palestinian culture and who are familiar with Islam. Capable of blending in seamlessly with their enemies, they have an ability to pass as Arabs.

At a Palestinian wedding, Doron and several of his compatriots pretend to be pastry deliverymen. Something goes wrong, forcing Boaz to shoot the bridegroom, Abu Ahmad’s brother. This incident gives Abu Ahmad one more reason to wreak vengeance on “the Jews” and prompts the bereaved bride, Amal (Mona Hava), to seek revenge.

Two new characters are introduced at this juncture — Walid (Shadi Mari) and Shirin (Laetitia Eido). Walid is Abu Ahmad’s young, dedicated second-in-command. Shirin –Walid’s cousin — is a physician at a local hospital who’s sucked into the vortex.

In the riveting scenes to come, blood flows and fists fly as Doron trades wits with his Palestinian nemesis. It’s a fight to the finish, but Fauda humanizes the protagonists.

Abu Ahmad, though hard and unrelenting, shows a tender side when he interacts with his mother, wife and children. Steve, comparing himself to an “attack dog,” admits he’s weighed down by the brutality in his midst. Doron manipulates Palestinians, but his defences appear to crumble after he meets Shirin, a Palestinian nationalist who displays surprising compassion and empathy for a captured Israeli soldier. Walid is a servant of the Palestinian cause, but knows where to draw the line.

Fauda draws a gritty picture of a fierce nationalist struggle that has consumed countless lives and may yet devour many more before the guns fall silent.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal, SheldonKirshner.com