In ‘dialogue with reality,’ 3rd season of Israeli hit ‘Fauda’ ventures into Gaza

‘We know that we’re touching something very sensitive,’ says co-creator Avi Issacharoff as blockbuster thriller takes on the war-scarred enclave — a world away, next door

In this May 30, 2019 photo, an actor waits for his scene on the set of Israel's hit TV show 'Fauda,' in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
In this May 30, 2019 photo, an actor waits for his scene on the set of Israel's hit TV show 'Fauda,' in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The creators of Israel’s hit TV show “Fauda,” the action series that chronicles the adventures of undercover Israeli commando operatives in the Palestinian territories, are gearing up for their most ambitious mission yet: Gaza.

After two successful seasons, co-creators Avi Issacharoff and Lior Raz are in the thick of filming their much-anticipated third season, which centers on the Gaza Strip, where the show’s lead character poses as a Palestinian boxing instructor to infiltrate the senior ranks of Hamas.

The Netflix release date hasn’t been revealed, but the season trailer debuted this week.

Gaza, a crowded Palestinian enclave ruled by Hamas, a terror group sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state, is off limits for the Israeli creators. Although Gaza borders Israel, it’s a world away — crippled by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas seized power from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority in 2007.

In this May 30, 2019 photo, co-creators of Israel’s hit TV show “Fauda” Avi Issacharoff, left, who is also the Times of Israel’s Arab affairs analyst, and Lior Raz pose for a photo in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The blockade, which Israel says is needed to prevent Hamas from arming, has crushed Gaza’s economy and brought the territory to the brink of humanitarian disaster. For over a decade, Gaza’s 2 million people have suffered from rising poverty and unemployment, undrinkable water and frequent electricity outages.

Israel has accused Hamas of prioritizing war preparations over the wellbeing of Gazans, funneling funds, concrete, pipes and other supplies sold or smuggled into Gaza away from civilian needs and toward construction of attack tunnels and other military programs.

Israel has forbidden its citizens from entering the territory since withdrawing from Gaza in 2005. The following year, Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured in a cross-border raid and held captive by Hamas operatives for five years. Since the Hamas takeover, Israel has fought three full-blown wars and numerous bloody skirmishes with Palestinian groups in the Strip.

Recent months have seen heightened tensions in the Gaza Strip, including a massive two-day flare-up last month between Israel and terror groups in the enclave, in which three Israeli civilians were killed in almost 700 rocket attacks and another was killed by an anti-tank missile.

“We cannot go to Gaza of course to shoot it, so this is why it’s so challenging to find the right places that give the feeling that we’re almost there,” said Issacharoff, a veteran Arab affairs journalist who writes for Hebrew-language news outlets as well as The Times of Israel. He added that the past decade of Israel’s on-and-off wars with Gaza has made it a highly combustible subject for the Israeli public.

“It deals with one of the biggest fears of the Israeli audience, maybe because of Gilad Shalit’s five years in prison over there, maybe because people don’t know Gaza,” he said. “We know that we’re touching something very sensitive at the heart of the Israeli audience. And it’s not going to be easy.”

In this May 30, 2019 photo, actors play their roles during a scene on the set of Israel’s hit TV show “Fauda,” in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The series, which dramatizes the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict that many of its spectators live out every day, was never billed as escapism. It has won rave reviews for what many say is a realistic and nuanced look at life in the region.

The show’s new setting of Gaza appears to be a case of art imitating life. Just last fall, a covert Israeli operation in Gaza went awry, setting off a fierce battle that left eight Hamas officers and an IDF officer dead, and triggered a brief but intense round of cross-border fighting.

“Many things that you would see in Fauda are in a kind of dialogue with reality. It’s not 100% what happens in reality, but we were inspired by true stories, we were inspired by true characters and sometimes we invented characters and stories that we found later, in reality,” said Issacharoff.

Besides shootouts and chases, the show delves into the personal lives and minds of the Israeli commandos and Palestinian operatives, often depicting their motivations and family struggles in a sympathetic manner. For both Israeli and Palestinian spectators, it provides a glimpse, even if fleeting, into the human experiences on the other side of the separation barrier and the decades-old conflict.

In this May 30, 2019 photo, an actor waits for his scene on the set of Israel’s hit TV show “Fauda,” in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

“We’re trying to bring the human side of them as characters, as family people, with kids, with love, with every challenge that we have as human beings,” said co-creator and lead actor Raz.

The show doesn’t have any Palestinian writers, according to a spokesman for the Yes satellite network, which, critics say, limits its capacity to truly explore both sides.

The Palestinian-led movement that promotes boycotts of Israel has asked Netflix to nix the series, calling it an “Israeli propaganda tool that glorifies the Israeli military’s war crimes.”

Bishara Halloun, an Arab citizen of Israel who studies at Hebrew University, said that although he devoured both seasons and has many Palestinian friends who enjoy the show, he felt a creeping sense of unease as the series progressed.

In this May 30, 2019 photo, a crew films a scene on the set of Israel’s hit TV show “Fauda,” in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

“You leave with the stereotypical image about Palestinians, and about Arabs in the Middle East, that with their bombs and guns, they’re the antagonists,” he said. “I felt a little offended. Even if the Israeli soldiers use brutal tactics, they’re the show’s heroes. If you’re a local, you know the truth is somewhere in between.”

Raz admits his inherited Israeli perspective brands Palestinians as “the enemy.” Just because the show contains tender moments and grapples with thorny political issues, the creators say, doesn’t mean it strives to deliver world peace.

More than anything, it’s a gritty thriller and a blockbuster hit, aimed especially this season at attracting an international audience.

“The show is just an attempt by us, by Lior and myself, to be a good show, to be a good drama,” said Issacharoff. “I would say that none of us has the intentions of changing reality or bringing peace to this planet. Especially when we’re dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s kind of mission impossible.”

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