Itzik Cohen, who plays Captain Gabi Ayub on the hit Israeli TV show Fauda, wrote this guest blog for Creative Community For Peace (CCFP), expressing his views on the show and on its contribution to peace.
Fauda is a startup, a series that was made on a very low budget, and in the midst of the summer heat, with a great deal of tension of a possible war in the air. None of the actors or creators thought for a minute that the whole world would embrace the series. Most of us thought that even in Israel it would be considered a niche series.
Reality proved otherwise. In fact, Fauda changed everything we knew about Israeli Television and it became a phenomenon. Everyone who was part of the series upgraded their career.
But everything begins and ends with sensitive and meticulous work. The show’s creators, Lior Raz and Avi Issacharoff, together with Assaf Bernstein, the director of the first episode, placed an emphasis on the complexities and sensitivities of the characters, and insisted on not creating Jewish or Arab stereotypes.
This is the reason they cast me. I come from a background in comedy and musicals, and so fit beautifully as the opposite type cast for the dramatic and complex role of Captain Gabi Ayub. They didn’t want the stereotype of the tough and macho Shabak investigator, but instead wanted to reach the heart of the conflict in order to show how people find themselves in complex and dangerous situations that end up touching our hearts.
Our first embrace came from the Israeli public. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t get a good word or a pat on the back because of Captain Ayub, whether it’s from Jews, Muslims, Christians or Druze, in Tel Aviv, Nazareth, Haifa, Akko,or Eilat.
When, due to Waze, I accidentally found myself on the Palestinian side of Barta’a [a town that’s partially Israeli and partially Palestinian], not only did I receive a police escort, but also a selfie and a hug!
Fauda builds bridges between nations, and develops a discourse of cooperation and brotherhood. I have been approached so many times by people who wish to learn Arabic as a direct result of the series (even though I don’t know Arabic and learned the lines phonetically), which makes me feel that Fauda has become a great force for bringing people together.
On the set of the first episode, there was a lot of tension and many rocket sirens because of Operation Protective Edge. And although there were Jewish and Arab actors with different political views on the set, the atmosphere was always warm and heartfelt. In fact sharing this fate together added tremendously to the roles we played and to the importance of the series.
In every city I’ve been to, whether London, Berlin, Miami, Brussels, or Rotterdam, it seems that everybody is talking about Fauda. I just finished filming a movie in Belgium with the amazing Ben Kingsley and Monica Bellucci, and in all my visits to Belgium I always received warm embraces, compliments, photo requests. But there was one incident in particular that I remember that happened at the airport. There was a very tough border officer at passport control who signaled for me to cut in front of all 50 people in front of me in order to smile at me and say that Fauda changed everything she thought about Israel and the Jews, and that she herself was a Muslim.
As an actor, I try to live my characters and got used to ad libbing in Hebrew and Arabic (even though I do not speak the latter). It goes without saying that I was helped along by my fellow actors who helped introduce a bit of the Arabic humor and proper accent so that my part as Captain Ayub would read authentically. This prompted the actor dubbing my part in English for Netflix to write to me that half of what I say doesn’t exist in the script and ask if I remember my ad libs, to which I replied that I can’t even remember what I ate for breakfast.
I was surprised to hear recently that the BDS movement asked Netflix to boycott Fauda and cancel our contract. I am not a political person and I’m not inclined to voice an opinion on what I do not understand, but I will say that Fauda is program which brings people from either side together and allows for discussion. I am against boycotts and believe that talking is always the better solution.
Blessings, Salam Aleikum.