Exclusive: Fauda became a bridge between Arabs, Jews
Lior Raz, hero and cowriter of Fauda, tells Khaleej Times how he tried to humanise the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and won over people from both sides
It might have taken Israel years of political manoeuvring to strike the latest peace deals with its Arab neighbours, the UAE and Bahrain. But much before the powers in Washington’s White House negotiated the Abraham Accords on September 15 and ended hostilities, the popular Netflix series ‘Fauda’ had melted the ice between traditional foes --- the Jews and the Arabs.
The award-winning Israeli show – in Hebrew and Arabic – that depicted the heat and gore of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was a cross-border success and won over international audience, including those in the Arab world, on Netflix, an American over-the-top (OTT) content platform and production company.
‘Fauda’ was rated the most-watched series in the UAE.
The high-octane action-drama centred around a counter-terrorism Commando Unit called “Mista’arvim’ of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) that went undercover into the Palestinian territory to nab a Hamas operative. The ensuing chaos packed with raw, unflinching violence, hostage drama and nail-biting plot twists were driven by the protagonist, Doron Kavilio, who had co-authored the show with his old friend, Avi Issacharoff.
When Khaleej Times sat down with Lior, at a private villa in Tel Aviv during our trip to Israel last week, he was excited about the sweeping political changes happening in the region. ‘Fauda’, Lior said, had set the tone and became a bridge between the Arabs and the Jews because it humanised people from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We showed Israelis like human beings for the first time… our soldiers as human beings. And we also were showing Palestinians as human beings. So, I think this is the achievement of the show. I hope that it helped people understand that there are people behind the headlines of the newspaper. We showed both the narrative.”
Clad in a black Harley Davidson leather jacket and teamed up with a T-shirt and a pair of denim, Lior looked as though he had put down his gun and stepped out of the Netflix screen for an interlude. But any resemblance to the rough and restive Commando, Doron, stopped at his sartorial choices and outward appearances.
Lior, in flesh and blood, was far more mature and mellow because he advocated for peace.
“This is the starting of the new beginning for the whole region. Both the UAE and Israel… Enough! Yalla... Khalaas! We want to live. We want to have peace. Enough with wars… and enough with hatred.”
How did it all begin?
Lior, who had earlier worked for the Special Units at IDF, says ‘Fauda’ was conceived out of his dream to write about the mental stress of Israeli security forces to pay for their actions. “I wanted to show now just the warriors but also their families... people surrounding them. And I also wanted to show the Palestinian side,” said Lior.
The co-creators did not foresee that the show would be a smashing hit not just at home or in the wider region, but also on the international stage. “Nobody wanted it. Israeli broadcasters did not want to buy the show. We got so many negative reactions. We also thought nobody would watch it except my family and Avi’s family.”
The pandemic that kept people tied to their homes, he said, also helped the show as many people watched it.
Bouquets and Brickbats
The series, as well as Lior, became an instant hit when it premiered on Netflix in 2015. The warm welcome he received in the UAE two years ago was “touching”.
“I was sitting down with Palestinians, Iranians, Syrians, Lebanese, Kuwaitis and Emiratis in one place. It is strange. It is not a regular thing for us. I felt at home immediately… people are very welcoming.”
According to him, the magic of the show was that it won people over from both sides of the conflict. The extremists among Israelis, after watching Fauda, Lior claimed, felt empathetic toward Palestinians. “And, also from the other side -- the Arabs -- the Palestinians told me that this is the first time that they are feeling compassionate towards the Israelis. So, I think everyone connected to this narrative but still they could see it from the other side too.”
Despite its popularity, the show courted controversy as Palestinians called for a ban and their sympathisers vowed not to watch a one-sided show that glorified IDF and its violent operations in Palestine.
But Lior was unapologetic, and admitted the show had a Jewish perspective because it was written by an Israeli national.
“There are some Palestinians, who don’t love the show and I can understand it. Again, I wrote it. I would love to see a Palestinian show about Israelis and Palestinians from their perspective. I would love to see that.”
Lior also attributed to ‘Fauda’s’ credit that many more Israelis are learning Arabic, especially people like him who have Arabic roots. “My father is from Iraq and my mother is from Algeria. They get connected to their roots.”
Likewise, Arabs visiting Israel would also feel connected to the Israeli culture, which is similar to the Arabic culture in many ways, he added.
Staying grounded in stardom
Lior is an overnight star. Even many Israelis did not know about him before ‘Fauda’s’ release. But, now, he is arguably one of the most recognised Israeli faces globally. So how is he handling the instant stardom?
Lior said he was glad that fame came his way later than sooner “because if I was very young, I would have been very proud and I probably couldn’t have sat here and talked to you”.
“You know I have my family and I am very grounded with my life and I don’t like it that fame makes me someone else than I am… in the end of the day, we are all people and this is work and this is my job. That’s it.”
At the cost of his privacy, Lior said he was happy that he could reach out and talk to anyone that he wanted. “And I can influence people; I can talk about stuff and people will hear me, and I think this is a blessing. You know, but I am trying to stay grounded and humble because it is very easy to get confused.”
Lior also seemed to be playing his new role as an ambassador between cultures with consummate ease and elan. “I am bringing the Israel culture to the UAE and vice-versa.”
“I think we can do some amazing stuff together. I have met many production companies over there and we want to collaborate and do something together... to do movies or TV shows together.
Playing a good host
Lior said all of Israel was excited with this opportunity to host UAE citizens and residents after the two nations normalised bilateral relations. “We want to show you around, to show you Israel. I think we are very similar. We came to the desert and we built something so huge that we cannot understand how it all happened. We need to learn from you guys how you did it. I think you can come and visit it to see us and just have fun because Israel is a good place to be. Tel Aviv is amazing, Jerusalem is amazing, the North is now looking… all the water, and the sea and everything … just come here and I will host you.”
That is a promise his UAE fans can hold him to account next time when they visit Israel.