As a Palestinian living in the occupied territories, I understand that a lot of Israelis, and many viewers worldwide, genuinely believe that the Netflix series ’Fauda’ presents an informed, even “neutral,” point of view about the conflict in Israel and Palestine. Indeed, the series’ strapline is: “The human stories on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict.”
That faith in ’Fauda’ is badly misplaced. The mispreception that the series offers any kind of accurate portrayal of Palestinian life and identity has, sadly, wide-ranging and unfortunate repercussions.
In the just-released season three, the same Israeli undercover commando unit that completed operations, successfully and controversially, inside the West Bank over the first and second seasons, has a new theater of operations: Gaza. The unit, whose members speak Arabic and are trained to both assasinate and “blend in,” participate in an operation to release two Israeli youngsters kidnapped by Hamas.
Palestinians in Gaza have been under an Israeli and Egyptian land, air, and sea blockade since 2007. Since the only other border is the sea, that means there is no way out and few ways in, too. Very few Israelis may have entered Gaza in the last 15 years. Very few Palestinians from the West Bank have either. I happen to be one of the few, entering several times on humanitarian missions. So does Fauda offer a rare window into an effectively closed-off territory?
Well, the season’s writers clearly thought they had done their duty to truth-telling by showing, from time to time, Gaza’s endemic electricity outages. They showed how dirty and contaminated the water is there.
But the reality is worse than even the most dystopian television script: 38 percent of the population lives in poverty. 54 percent suffer from food insecurity. 39 percent of the youth are unemployed, and over 90 percent of the water is undrinkable. I saw kids from Gaza leaving through the Erez border crossing for cancer treatments in Israel without their families: it’s almost unimaginable, but you won’t learn that from Fauda.
The reality of life in Gaza is even less than the most basic backdrop to the real action. In contrast, the writers grab every opportunity to focus on the radicalization in Gaza.
In one of the episodes, Doron Kavillio, the key protagonist and leader - by force of personality but not title - of the undercover unit, enters a shop in Gaza disguised as a Palestinian. He starts with greeting the shop owner with a very cool “Hi” in English and finishes by calling the young lady “habibti” [my love/my dearest.]
It is true that we Arabs tend to use the word “habibi” beyond its actual meaning, but almost never towards someone random of the opposite gender, and definitely not in Gaza. Using “habibi” in that way is an Israelism. In the “real” Gaza, Doron’s cultural impropriety would have raised a flashing red light - enough reason for him to be caught.
While Doron is getting unduly linguistically over-familiar with the Gaza shop owner, his two colleagues, Eli and Sagi, are stopped by a Hamas police officer while waiting for Doron to leave the store. They’re wearing rough, dirty clothes and riding a battered old car. They introduce themselves as traders from the West Bank and Eli announces he is getting married in Gaza tonight. Honestly, I couldn’t not help but laugh out loud.
First, the number of West Bank traders who enter Gaza in a good year can be counted on the fingers of two hands, and they are invariably the richest and best-connected businessmen. Secondly, the idea of a West Bank man getting married to a woman from Gaza is bizarre and incongruous, as since the blockade, it no longer happens. Thirdly: the sad absurdity that Israel would grant the trader’s friend a permit to attend the wedding too? That’s just too much.
It’s reasonable that the series’ vast global audience might not have the information and tools to know Gaza’s reality, but that makes the culpability of the directors, who don’t even try to present the truth, far more egregious.
In the same vein, there are other examples of a pronounced unfamiliarity with how Palestinians speak. Any Palestinian would have understood there was something fishy about the boxer featured this season who is supposed to come from Hebron. Most West Bank accents are reasonably similar - but Hebron’s is famously distinctive. There was not even the smallest effort to reflect this.
It leaves the impression that Palestinians are good enough to appropriate for dramatic material but not for anything approaching an authentic representation. Perhaps Fauda needs more Palestinian advisors.
This leads me to my biggest problem with the show. Every chance that they have, Fauda’s writers present the Israeli commandos as personally and operationally principled, lingering on their deep concern for protecting the civilians of Gaza, going out of their way to fulfil their promise to the family of the Palestinian informer who supported them. They aren’t shown shooting or killing any Palestinian women or childen. A Palestinian woman carries her baby across rubble where rescue workers search for trapped civilians after the Israeli military offensive. Near Rafah refugee camp, Gaza, August 4, 2014 Credit AFP
But this is Fauda’s war on truth. All the data shows that the opposite is true. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in relation to just one of the Israel-Hamas conflicts, the 2014 Gaza war, 2251 Palestinians were killed, of which 1462 were civilians 551 were children and 299 were women. Israelis need to know the unvarnished truth: that their army is responsible for killing all these civilians, and to recognize the chasm between those deaths, their perpetrators and Fauda’s fantasy soldiers.
And if it’s too hard to trust Palestinians and international humanitarian organizations - hear it from Israeli military veterans themselves, whose testimonies Breaking the Silence compiles, who describe how entire neighborhoods have been virtually wiped off the map, and soldiers told - and I quote - “shoot anyone in your proximity.” Read the words of Israel’s own government ministers, like then-Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who declared in 2018, “You have to understand, there are no innocent people in the Gaza Strip.”
But for me, one of the worst, even dangerous, scenes occurs towards the end of the third season, when an Arab physiotherapist, as he’s starting a therapy session in an Israeli hospital attempts to kill the head of a Shin Bet branch in the West Bank.
It’s worth deconstructing this plot: 17 percent of Israel’s physicians, 24 percent of its nurses and 47 percent of its pharmacists are Arabs. There has never been a single incident in history where Arab medics in Israel have betrayed their Hippocratic oath and harmed a patient.
It is beyond ridiculous to platform a character and plotline that marks Arabs working inside the Israeli health care system as untrustworthy and disloyal, and capable of violent attacks. It can only create further mistrust between people. To promote such an image is completely deceitful and false - and worse, it feeds those voices, including at the top of Israel’s government, who constantly demean Israel’s Arab citizens, legislate their inequality and incite against them. A Palestinian artist paints a mural in a show of support for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Gaza City, April 20, 2020 Credit AFP
Having a future fourth season based in the Palestinian territories, whether Gaza or the West Bank, would push the limits of credibility too far, after three seasons of serially blowing up both their cover and having exhausted their “authentic Palestinian” schtick. The obvious candidates for Fauda’s future script location would be Lebanon or Syria.
If so, I hope the writers and producers take more seriously their responsibility to present a more faithful social and political reality. That they retreat from the barely subliminal anti-Arab incitement. And that they can bring themselves to offer even the superficial respect for the essential nuances of Arab culture and the value of human life that they serially failed to provide for Palestinians.
With the region already bursting with so much disinformation, name-calling and dangerous propaganda, there’s no need to further confirm prejudices and deepen ignorance. Fauda can do better.
George Zeidan is co-founder of Right to Movement Palestine, an initiative to illustrate the reality of Palestinian life through sports. A Fulbright awardee with a masters degree from the Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California, he works for an international humanitarian organization in Jerusalem. He grew up in Jerusalem’s Old City