By MIRA SUCHAROV
With news that another IDF soldier has been killed in a Palestinian village in the West Bank, attention on the occupation is as necessary as ever. At what cost is this half century of brutality – to everyone – and to what end? Through the Israeli hit show Fauda, Netflix viewers have a binge-worthy way to think more fully about the occupation. But is it doing the trick?
When it comes to reactions, the divide between mainstream Jewish audiences and Palestinian ones is stark. For the most part, Jewish audiences have been eager and appreciative viewers of the series.
“The Israeli characters are flawed and damaged by the relentless stress of trying to contain and confront terrorism,” said one Facebook friend, making clear the causal arrows in his mind – between Palestinian violence and Israeli containment. “I heart Doron,” wrote another, in reference to the tough-but-tender-hearted protagonist, played by Lior Raz. Before the pandemic shuttered the buildings, Raz, also the show’s co-creator, filled Jewish community centres on cross-continent speaking tours.
But Palestinians, and those who are active in the Palestine solidarity movement, are just as likely to be put off by the show. “Shooting and crying,” another Facebook friend wrote, referring to the oft-heard leftwing criticism that Israeli liberals and centrists clutch their pearls over ongoing military violence against Palestinians but do nothing to actually stop it. “I hope there isn’t a fourth season,” another chagrined-but-clearly addicted friend told me, tongue in cheek. “It’s total Israeli propaganda. And I’ll simply have to watch it.”
In terms of overall production values, there’s a lot to like about Fauda. With the exception of the first three or four episodes of Season 3, where the writing turned wooden and some details were lacking, and in which Bashar took off his boxing gloves, revealing bare hands – something especially irksome to me, a weekend sparrer – the show has been excellent television.
So, what about the politics of it all? First, let’s consider the goals. The creators have emphasized that they have indeed tried to make a balanced product. It’s not only “the number of dead you can count on both sides. It’s the scars that are left on the heart of the people that are part of this war,” co-creator Avi Issacharoff told me when I interviewed him upon the show’s release in 2015.
But when it comes to live issues of justice and human rights, we need to consider the new-old chestnut impact versus intent, a phrase that’s become popular in critical race and social justice circles. Whatever even-handed hope the creators may have harboured, whatever goals they may have held about advancing the stories of both sides, we need to consider how the series is experienced by those whose lives are most affected by Israel’s policies toward Palestinians.
Palestinians are less than lukewarm about it.
In 2018, Palestinian-Israeli literary sensation Sayed Kashua bemoaned the fact that “there is nothing in Fauda that addresses the reality in the territories. In Fauda, there are no rulers or ruled, no occupation, no historical background, no checkpoints, poverty, home demolitions, expulsions, settlers or violent soldiers.”
More recently, George Zeidan, co-founder of Right to Movement Palestine, called the show “barely subliminal anti-Arab incitement.” And in an ironic twist, Palestinian educator Kefah Abukhdeir pointed to the importance of showing the degree of surveillance to which everyday Palestinians are subjected. “In a small way,” she writes, “I guess it’s good that now you know. But the truth is, it’s almost unbearable to see this show get plaudits when we were not believed, when we were silenced, when we were called racist for pointing this out for decades.”
It’s true that I once believed that a show like this, with more Arabic than Hebrew, with generally fully drawn characters of all stripes, with the showcasing of Palestinian actors who might not otherwise have many outlets, may very well help pry open the gates of mutual understanding, as good television and cinema can. And while, in a cinematic sense, I also heart Doron, I, too, can’t deny that when it comes to Israeli archetypes (I was also raised on the ideal of Sabra-style masculinity) I simply can no longer promote the show as one that helps the cause of peace and justice.
When I really try to listen to the effect this show is having on the viewers who are the most vulnerable to Israeli violence, those who suffer the indignities of occupation surveillance and the injustice of collective punishment and the mass casualties of asymmetric war, when I really pause to look away from the screen and be open to their voices, I hear the message that Fauda hurts.
Mira Sucharov is professor of political science and University Chair of Teaching Innovation at Carleton University in Ottawa. She is the author, most recently, of Public Influence: Op-Ed Writing and Social Media Engagement. Her latest book, Borders and Belonging: A Memoir, is forthcoming.