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Fauda - shalom aleichem, salaam aleikum

Fauda, which means chaos in Arabic, is also the code word used by Israeli special forces when a mission goes awry and needs to be aborted. Fauda is also the name of the superb series on Netflix, acquired from the Israeli satellite channel Yes, whose third season is now available. While Season 1 (2015) and Season 2 (2018) were predominantly based in the West Bank, Season 3 has Gaza as its focus.

It is a thrilling story centered around an undercover unit of the Israeli Special Forces. Doron Kavillio (Lior Raz, who is also the co-creator of the show) is brought out of retirement after he learns that the terrorist Taufiq Hammed (Hisham Sulliman), whom he thought he had killed 18 months ago, is reportedly still alive. He is welcomed back by members of his old unit - Naor (Tzachi Halevy), brother-in-law Boaz (Tomer Kapon), elite sniper Avihai (Boaz Konforty), wryly funny Hertzl, who goes by the American moniker Steve (based on a real person who had this nickname, known to creator Lior Raz during his stint in the Israeli Defense Forces, his experiences in which inform the show with realism) and the only woman in the unit, Nurit (Rona-Lee Shim'on). In addition to them, and the character I love the most, is Captain Gabi Ayub, played wonderfully by Itzik Cohen. He is the consummate good cop-bad cop, all sweetness and tenderness with his son on the phone or when mollycoddling a witness, but equally able to be brutally harsh when the situation warrants. There is also the beautiful Palestinian Dr Shirin Al Abed played by French-Lebanese actress Laetitia Edo, who didn't speak a word of it before but learned Arabic for this role. Her cousin Walid is played with fiery menace by Shadi Mar'i. Season 2's antagonist Al-Makdasi (Firas Nassar), who pledges allegiance to ISIS is shown much more brutal and driven by personal vendetta. Season 3 gives much more nuance to the two main antagonists, Abu Fauzi (Amir Hativ) and Bashar Hamdan (Ala Dakka), and the blurring of lines and moralities and the emotional toll on the "good guys" is a sign of the show's evolution.

For those of us who don't live and breathe the reality of daily existence in that part of the world, there are quite a few revelations, such as the co-operation between the IDF and the Palestinian Authority in fighting the common enemy of radicals and extremists. I also chose to watch it in the original Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles (like I had done watching Narcos (2015-17) and Narcos: Mexico (2018, 2020) in the original Spanish - you just cannot adequately replace puta or plata y plomo). The power and emotion that the originally cast actor can bring to the scene in their native tongue can never be replaced by a dubbing artist. Plus of course the joy of discovering so many words in Arabic that correspond with Urdu like khatra, jahannum, mazboot and many more. Also learned many new cultural things such as the fact that when speaking to someone in a respectful manner, they are called Abu or Um, followed the first name of their eldest child, rather than by their first names. So Abu Ahmed means father of Ahmed and Um Bashar means mother of Bashar.

For those looking for a balance between the Israeli and Palestinian viewpoints and worldviews, you have come to the wrong show. This is an unabashedly Israeli show made by Zionists for an Israeli audience. The Israelis are the good guys trying to save their country and the Palestinians are the ones causing disruption and chaos. But it does not paint each side or character as only black or white or as a caricature. It humanizes them, shows their internal conflicts, their love for family and the personal sacrifices they have to make in order to support their belief and cause and duty. That's why in spite of its Israeli origins, Fauda is wildly popular throughout the Middle East and other Islamic countries, because in the end, viewers universally like a good human story which is well told with a minimum of narrative chaos.

June 20, 2020

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