I recently had a Palestinian friend recommend the Netflix show “Fauda” to me at an Iftar (Ramadan breakfast, right around sunset), which, as comedic timing goes, is about as ridiculous as it gets. For starters, although I was limited in my knowledge about “Fauda”, I knew it was centered on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and a product of Israeli directors and producers. I thought to myself, if this friend can see past the conflict and appreciate this show, perhaps it’s worth a shot. I figured the only way I could formulate an educated opinion was by watching it myself rather than reading the countless critiques and reviews I’d scrolled past online.
When I first heard about “Fauda”, I was cautiously cynical. I’ll admit I’m apparently behind the times, as the show has been around for over a year, but in my defense it’s not often that I engage in American shows set in the Middle East, much less a show directed, produced, and starring Israeli actors focusing on the daily intricacies of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Growing up in the age of Jack Bauer and shows like “24”, “Homeland”, etc. I knew that for the sake of my own sanity and self-preservation, it probably wouldn’t do much good to tune into the steady stream of TV shows that portray Arabs as bloodthirsty barbarians. My mistake was that I quickly filed “Fauda” into the same category, shows that depict Arabs in a negative light solely for entertainment, maybe because they don’t know any better.
In the case of “Fauda”, the reality is much darker. The show’s creators, former IDF soldiers, can’t claim ignorance about their promotion of dangerous stereotypes and one-dimensional character development, and their objective seems much more sinister than simply entertainment, it borders on military propaganda. Specifically the Israeli side of the border. If your interest in the Palestinian-Israeli situation goes no further than simply seeking drama and entertainment, perhaps you are part of the target audience and might enjoy “Fauda”. If you’re interested in what daily life in Israel (half of the conflict) looks like, albeit dramatized and featuring only attractive people, I would even recommend “Fauda”. However, if you’re tuning in hoping to see any sort of accurate portrayal of what life can be like for Palestinians (that’d be the other half of the conflict), this show will leave you sorely disappointed and possibly frustrated and upset. Suffice it to say I was somehow unsurprised and disappointed at the same time.
Understand that having former members of the Israeli military write and direct a show about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is akin to having KKK leaders produce and direct a biopic on Martin Luther King Jr. I’m not saying they’re definitely going to get it wrong, but the chances of them providing an accurate and unbiased production go out the window when the pointy white hoods are still on. The way the conflict is approached/avoided is telling in the same way that the name of the show is telling. “Fauda” is an Arabic word, frequently translated as chaos. Interesting that an Israeli-made show, starring Israeli actors and directed and produced by Israelis couldn’t decide on another title, perhaps the Hebrew word for ‘chaos’, or even ‘chaos’ in English. Instead they decided to ride the wave of taking Arabic words and weaponizing them. We’ve seen this done with “jihad”, we’ve seen it with “Allahu akbar.” This is part of a steady and deliberate attempt to demonize the language used by Arabs and Muslims. Additionally, the Arabic used in the show by the Israeli actors is, as Arabic goes, not great. It’s certainly an improvement from the barely-decipherable stuttered trash used in most American TV shows and movies about the Middle East, but the Arabic on display in “Fauda” wouldn’t fly in most Arab-American communities, and it certainly wouldn’t do well in the West Bank.
The show also glosses over certain areas of life in Israel and Palestine. The lack of visible checkpoints in the show would lead you to believe that people are free to move as they please, which is certainly not the case. Tough topics to address, like the toll that military life has on children — seeing their parents constantly armed and ready to do battle — are passed over without commentary. Additionally, and most egregiously, the only visible cue of the separation wall comes courtesy of the drones constantly flown into Palestinian territory for surveillance or worse. The imagery of simply gliding over this 25 foot wall is a perfect example of how “Fauda” passes over the real struggles that Palestinians face in favor of romanticized storylines featuring forbidden love and dramatic desert duels. This show could’ve been an opportunity to ask hard questions and delve into even harder answers. Instead, we have a glorified “Homeland”, that trades in difficult questions for car chases and weapons montages.
I needed to make sure the opinions I was formulating weren’t simply a product of my own biases against the Israeli military and their secretive, murderous tactics, so I asked an American friend with no founded opinion on Israel or Palestine to give the show a chance and write down some of her thoughts. A few days later she responded with two points. Her first thought was that the main protagonist, Doron, was a “psychopathic military dude practicing his gun skills in the backyard when he’s retired”. The scenes of Doron in his backyard practicing with his gun illustrate the state of mind that comes as a result of always feeling the need to defend yourself with lethal force. In one particularly poignant scene, Doron spasmodically cocks and practices firing his pistol while his son quietly watches in the background. This is a perfect example of how the mentality embodied by the members of these killing units is passed down to the younger generation, who can’t help but feel that they too are in dire need of arming and protecting themselves.
The second point that my friend made was, “it’s so messed up that the Israelis can just go into palestinians homes and private events and shoot people and have governmental support.” Setting aside momentarily the fact that her text didn’t autocorrect Palestinians to indicate that it’s a proper noun, this point articulates how even in the content that they produce, Israelis can’t see the issue behind their actions. A child caught doing something wrong feels a certain level of shame, but “Fauda” is clear evidence that the Israeli military is shameless. My friend Ali, the one who originally suggested the show, confessed to me that a major factor in his willingness to watch “Fauda” was a rumor he’d heard that the show was boycotted by Israelis for its portrayal of the military. His logic led him to the obvious conclusion that if Israelis are causing such a stink over this show, it’s probably worth a watch. (After much research, I found no such evidence that the show was boycotted, so it turns out I needn’t have bothered with “Fauda” to begin with.)
Giving credit where it’s due, if it’s due at all, the show does occasionally depart from the typical Arab storyline presented in most American media. “Fauda” attempts to illustrate the daily life of Palestinians in its grim reality while also interspersing heartfelt moments of love, friendship, and familial connection. Many of the Palestinian characters are given these human qualities, which could lead a viewer to empathize with their struggle for survival or even see them as human and thus relatable. However, even this lowest of low bars fails to accurately portray the struggle that Palestinians encounter every day. The action in “Fauda” is meant to take place in the West Bank, an area rife with checkpoints and obstacles that keep Palestinians from moving freely. However the show does very little to illustrate this, providing a few brief shots of cars passing through checkpoints on their way to another dramatic car chase montage. “Fauda” does its best to depict the human aspects of both the Israeli and Palestinian side. Unfortunately this attempt at drawing parallels often seems intent on equating the two. This is a grave mistake. There are lives on both sides that deserve protection, but the tools of destruction are vastly different.
If “Fauda” does anything particularly well (and that’s a big IF), it’s to blur the line between television and reality. The show is dramatic, with endless tension, frequent gun battles, and the occasional timely explosion, but the drama takes on a different meaning when a viewer examines what they’re watching. What might appear to be a show about Israel’s secretive elite killing unit is based on the reality that the show’s creators supply. These same creators actually served in the secretive killing unit, which provides both gravity and a degree of perverted-ness to the show. The frequent calls for sympathy for Israeli soldiers suffering from PTSD at having to kill and torture Palestinians is rendered moot when their best form of therapy is to create a television show that mimics that reality. The show brings to mind the famous Malcolm X quote, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” This show clearly has protagonists, namely Doron Kavillio, but those protagonists are participating not only in targeted assassinations of dubious legality, they are integral cogs in a system of occupation that has seen Palestinians demonized, dehumanized and oppressed on a regular basis.
If you’re interested in a sanitized, inaccurate and overly-biased version of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, “Fauda” might be for you. For everyone else, we’ll have to keep waiting for a production that takes a (single, solitary) Palestinian voice into account or pretends to value what Palestinians have to say. Ideally the opportunity would be given to Palestinians to tell their own stories and share their perspectives with the world, but as we’ve seen over the past few weeks and months (and years, decades, etc.) the United States and its citizens are all too willing to overlook the Palestinian struggle and distract ourselves by any means necessary.