If you need convincing that “Fauda” should be your next binge-worthy Netflix offering, consider this: The series has become such a phenomenon, it’s beloved by both Israelis and Palestinians.
Written by Israeli veteran journalist Avi Issacharoff and the series’ lead actor, Lior Raz, the show centers around a team of “mistaravim,” Israeli commando soldiers who speak Arabic and operate undercover inside Palestinian territory. The high-octane drama — with both Arabic and Hebrew dialogue — tells opposite sides of the same story.
“We were shocked it made such a splash,” Raz, who is currently shooting the show’s second season in Israel, told TheWrap. “We thought, ‘Who in the U.S. would watch a show in Hebrew and Arabic?’”
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“Fauda,” Arabic for chaos, has managed to find its way into the hearts of audiences well-beyond the Holy Land. Dubbed “The Wire” of the West Bank, the show is already being credited with blurring the Israeli-Palestinian divide and bringing some clarity to the disorder and confusion that has long enveloped the Middle East.
“Fauda” goes back and fourth between the soldiers charged with protecting their country from terror attacks and those on the Palestinian side fighting against the Israeli occupation.
In one of the show’s most heart-wrenching scenes, a widow whose husband was killed by the undercover soldiers on their wedding day volunteers to be a suicide bomber. Scared out of her wits, she heads to a Tel Aviv bar and orders a drink. The female bartender, sensing she’s upset, asks her: “What happened? Did someone do something to you?”
That quick interaction creates a connection of sorts. The widow, who was ordered to leave the bomb in the club and exit to a waiting car parked outside, ends up blowing herself up along with everyone around her.
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“We gave a face to the other side,” Raz said. “We show the complexity of the conflict to the point where the viewer doesn’t know how to feel anymore.”
The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, and not just from within Israel.
“I’ve gotten fan mail from people in Dubai,” Raz said. “Muslims from all over the world have told us how much they love the show.”
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Show producers told TheWrap they made sure Arab roles went only to Arab actors and vice versa, with extra attention paid on getting the Arab dialects up to snuff. About 55 percent of the show’s first season is in Arabic. The second season will be closer to 65 percent.
“We wanted it to be authentic,” producer Liat Benasuly-Amit told TheWrap. “I’ve seen shows where everyone speaks English. That’s just b.s.”
“Fauda” has become such a hit in Israel, the military is now using it to teach soldiers how to speak Arabic. About 50 members of Israel Defense Forces’ Kfir Brigade took part in a first-ever experimental Arabic language course, which included watching episodes of “Fauda,” according to Israeli news site Mako.
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“There has been a spike in demand for Arabic courses in Israel because of the show,” Raz said. “And that could be a start of a new dialogue.”
To understand just how popular “Fauda” is in Israel, one need not go further than the local marketplace, also known as “Souk,” where Hisham Suliman, who plays a notorious Palestinian terrorist knick-named “The Panther,” got the shoutout of a lifetime.
“Everyone kept telling him he was their favorite terrorist,” Benasuly-Amit, said. “He’s a bona fide star.”
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Raz, who had never written a script in his life before “Fauda,” said he drew on his own experiences. He served in IDF’s elite unit “Duvdevan” (Hebrew for cherry) which he used as a model for the show. It wasn’t an easy pitch. Raz and Issacharoff got rejections from all the big players in Israel, including Keshet, Reshet (which together operate the country’s mighty Channel 2) and Channel 10. They finally found a partner in Yes, one of Israel’s largest satellite television providers, which boasts 600,000 subscribers. Yes execs were apprehensive at first but eventually came around. The gamble paid off big-time. The show clocked more than 3 million downloads in its first month (about a third of the country’s population) and struck a chord with viewers on both sides of the Green Line.
“Everyone was bracing for protests from the Israeli right,” Ran Boker, who covers entertainment for Israel’s most popular news site, Ynet, told TheWrap. “But that never happened. The series was able to touch people’s minds and hearts. It’s by far the most beloved series in the country in the recent memory.”
In the last decade, Israel, a pint-size country no bigger than New Jersey, has become the go-to place for executives looking for fresh, original content. The most successful Israeli series to date is “Prisoners of War,” which was remade in to “Homeland,” starring Claire Danes.
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Other hits include “BeTipul,” the basis for “In Treatment,” which ran on HBO from 2005-2008. More shows are already coming down the pipeline, including “Emmis,” adapted from its original Herbew version “Shtisel,” about an ultra-Orthodox family in Jerusalem; “Wisdom of the Crowd,” a CBS drama about a tech innovator who creates a cutting-edge crowd-sourcing hub to solve his daughter’s murder, starring Jeremy Piven; and “The Brave,” about undercover military heroes from “Homeland” executive producer Avi Nir.
But unlike “Homeland,” which was subject to backlash for perpetuating negative Muslim stereotypes, “Fauda,” is being hailed as a groundbreaking series for showing Palestinians in a more even-handed light.
“I watched every episode,” Maz Siam, a Palestinian actor living in West Los Angels, told TheWrap. It was like, ‘Oh my God! They’re showing Israeli soldiers killing a [Palestinian] family. I’d never seen that before.”
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He knew he was hooked when he found himself feeling sorry for the Israeli protagonist (played by Raz), who finds out his wife cheated on him with his best friend.
“It was a trip,” Siam said. “These people that are your enemies are shown in a way that I would not normally see.”
Siam, who’s had small parts in “Argo,” “NCIS: Los Angeles” and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” said getting a role on the show would be a “dream gig.”
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The “first to get killed,” in most of his acting jobs, Siam said he would relish the opportunity to dig deep into a character that’s multi-dimensional. The last acting gig he booked was for the upcoming season of CBS’ “MacGyver,” where he played one of Saddam Hussein’s henchmen.
“I only got hit over the head with a candelabra this time,” he said half-jokingly. “The only parts I seem to get are cabbies and terrorists.”
“Fauda” has become a favorite among Hollywood A-listers. Stephen King, perhaps the authority on thrillers, gave the show his stamp of approval, tweeting earlier this year: “FAUDA, on Netflix. Cool Israeli thriller. With episodes only a little longer than your average sitcom, it’s all killer and no filler.”
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And Conan O’Brien, who is currently shooting a special in Israel, filmed a skit with Raz, telling the “Fauda” crew that he is a “huge fan.”
While few expect a TV show to erase years of animosity between Israelis and Palestinians, “Fauda” has given both sides a little bit of hope — a rare commodity in this neck of the woods.
“‘Fauda’ has achieved something remarkable,” Itay Stern, who covers entertainment for Israeli newspaper Haaretz, told TheWrap. “One on hand, it allows us to look at ourselves from the point of view of the commando soldiers. But it also exposed people to how the other side is thinking.”
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Raz was tight-lipped about the upcoming second season. The only thing he’ll divulge is that Season 2 will be even more jam-packed with action and blood.
“Let’s just say, don’t get too attached to any of the characters next season,” he laughed.
Even if the show doesn’t lead to the next Oslo Accords, it’s already made Raz one of the hottest tickets in Hollywood. He’ll be making his English-language debut in “Mary Magdalene,” alongside Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix. He’s also been cast in MGM’s upcoming Nazi thriller, “Operation Finale,” which also stars Oscar winner Ben Kingsley. And earlier this month, Netflix announced a straight-to-series order with Raz also attached to star. A second project, “Hit and Run,” is also in development.
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“I try not to let it overwhelm me,” Raz said of his life these days. “My wildest dreams were realized with the show’s success in Israel. Everything else is just gravy.”
Still, he admits that every now and then he and his co-writer, Issacharoff, have to take a moment to absorb it all.
“At least once a week we have to pinch ourselves,” he said.
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