It isn’t often that I get surprised like this weekend when a very good friend of mine mentioned the Netflix series “Fauda” that is produced in Israel. He and his wife had been watching it and called me to recommend it. The exact words were, “if you like ‘Homeland’ then you’ll love Fauda”
The story centers around an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), Special Operations/Intelligence team which is part of the Commando Brigade that works across the border into the Palestinian territory. The 24-part, two-season series begins with the protagonist Doron Kavillio who was part of the team but stepped away when family issues arose. He’s called back when Israeli intelligence learns that a senior terrorist, Taufiq Hammed, Doron believed he killed 18 months earlier, is alive and preparing to resurface for his brother’s wedding. Hammed, who goes by the codename “The Panther” is the most wanted man in Season 1.
Fauda which means chaos in Arabic was developed by Lior Raz and Avi Issacharoff who based the story off of many of their own experiences while serving in the IDF’s Duvdevan Unit. Doron and his team, are part of a Mista’arvim unit, who are specially trained units that are tasked with working undercover in the Arab areas with their ability to assimilate in the cities and towns. And their operations are seldom without events going awry as they frequently do and the very first operation at the wedding is a testament to that.
What makes Fauda so damned compelling is the outstanding character development on both sides of the border. While the story centers around “the unit” as they call themselves, they are hardly just the forces of good here. Each of the characters has his flaws, none as much as the hard-boiled Doron. If you’re looking for a suave, debonair James Bond-type character in a tuxedo and driving an Aston Martin, Fauda isn’t for you.
Doron is a shorter, heavy-set, balding, foul-tempered badass with a permanent five o’clock shadow. His marriage is falling apart, his wife is screwing another member of the unit after he ignored her for several years. In one moment Doron is seen cuddling and cooing with his children whom he adores, the next, he breaks the teeth out of a Palestinian suspect with over the top brutality.
When a member of the unit gets kidnapped by Hamas, Donor snatches the terrorist’s daughter and when they’re doing a prisoner exchange, straps one of the Palestinian suicide vests on the seven-year-old girl threatening to blow her to bits. No, this isn’t your father’s John Wayne hero here. But at the same time, whenever he’s onscreen, you can’t take your eyes off of Doron, he’s like a wolf in the backyard. He may not be exerting any overt hostility but you have to watch him because he’s apt to explode at any second.
Captain Gabi Ayub, the Israeli interrogator is another compelling character. The suave, slightly oily Gabi is a master manipulator. He knows exactly which buttons to push. In one scene, his eyes look positively doe-like while he talks to a Palestinian mother about saving her children. The next moment after another woman tells an Israeli female interrogator to “Shut up you Zionist bitch.” Gabi turns on the devil eyes. He storms into the room and tells the pregnant Palestinian that he’ll make her suffer a miscarriage in exactly one minute if she doesn’t tell him what he needs to know.
I’ve read that the show is a smash hit not only in Israel but in Palestine as well. The Hamas, ISIS and Palestinian Authority players get the same treatment, they are far from the one-dimensional characters that we’re used to seeing on screen. The very evenhandedness by the producers towards the Palestinians is one of the biggest draws of the show. The series shows both points of view in every scenario and takes great pains to show the plight of the Palestinians. While little is shown about the West Bank and the border other than the benign checkpoints, the contrast between the Israeli countryside and the rundown, seedy Palestinian territory is stark.
Nowhere is the plight of the Palestinians shown better than the tragic case of Dr. Shirin Al Abed. A half-French, half Palestinian woman of 32, whose husband died of MS. She spent most of her life in Paris, worked for Doctors Without Borders and only moved to Palestine to be closer to her mother.
Shirin is forced to work for Hamas after they kidnap her mother. He gets taken advantage of from both sides. Doron goes undercover and woos here while telling her he is a member of the Palestinian Preventive Security. Her life gets turned upside down as she’s caught up in the intrigue and bloody killing that she wanted no part of.
Although the story is told basically from the standpoint of the unit, the differences between the Israelis and the Palestinians gets mighty blurry. Both sides threaten, torture and kill with increasing reckless abandon. Both the unit and the terror cells have big issues with individuals losing discipline, ignoring orders and going off on killing sprees.
The one thing Doron, Hammed and in Season 2, al-Makdasi have in common is the personal enmities and blind hate the characters have for one another that trumps their duties and responsibilities.
The action, though bloody isn’t too graphic, it is, however, very gritty. Israel likes to tout its army as the “most moral military in the world” but Fauda lays waste to that claim and Doron and the unit, routinely snatch Palestinians off the street, torture and beat their captives in an attempt to gather information and kill the Palestinians with callous disregard.
The series shows the awful price of the type of war that the two sides are fighting both physically and mentally. And the price paid by the families in this series is very steep. And like all wars, there are very, very few black and white issues, but various shades of grey. Are there plot holes in the series? Yes. Were there believability issues as well? At times, sure. It is like that with virtually every film Hollywood has done.
But if you tune into to Season 1, clear your calendar. As I said I was surprised and in a good way. I binge watched all 24 episodes this weekend and can’t wait for Season 3. This is most recommended and despite it being broadcast in Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles, it doesn’t take away from the story at all.