lunes, 28 de agosto de 2017

Fauda:How Do You Make a TV Show Set in the West Bank?

What the thriller “Fauda” reveals about what Israelis will watch—and what they won’t.

By David Remnick

“Fauda” follows an undercover Israeli unit trying to ensnare a terrorist mastermind.Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson

In 1949, Yizhar Smilansky, a young Israeli veteran, national legislator, and novelist writing under the pen name S. Yizhar, published “Khirbet Khizeh,” a novella about the destruction of a lightly fictionalized Palestinian village near Ashkelon, some thirty miles south of Tel Aviv. Writing from the point of view of a disillusioned Israeli soldier, Yizhar describes the Army’s capture of the village and the expulsion of its remaining inhabitants. The time is 1948, the moment of Israel’s independence and its subsequent victory over five invading Arab armies that had hoped to erase the fledgling Jewish state from the map. It would be forty years before the New Historians—Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim, and Simha Flapan among them—marshalled the nerve and the documentary evidence required to shatter the myth that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs had all voluntarily “abandoned” their cities and villages. Yizhar was there to bear witness in real time. He wrote from personal experience; he had been an intelligence officer in the war. In “Khirbet Khizeh,” Yizhar’s protagonist is sickened as he comes across an Arab woman who watches as her home is levelled: “She had suddenly understood, it seemed, that it wasn’t just about waiting under the sycamore tree to hear what the Jews wanted and then to go home, but that her home and her world had come to a full stop, and everything had turned dark and was collapsing; suddenly she had grasped something inconceivable, terrible, incredible, standing directly before her, real and cruel, body to body, and there was no going back.” Just a few years after the destruction of European Jewry, the soldier wonders, have we now become oppressors? Have the Arabs now been sent into exile? And why can’t I bring myself to protest? “Khirbet Khizeh” eventually became part of the Israeli public-school curriculum.

In the late nineteen-seventies, a decade after the Six-Day War and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, a young filmmaker named Ram Loevy proposed adapting “Khirbet Khizeh” for Israeli television. Loevy’s father had edited a Jewish newspaper in Danzig and escaped Europe on one of the last ships to leave Occupied France for Palestine. As a teen-ager, in the fifties, Loevy was an ardent Zionist. He was radiantly proud of the country that his people were building and unquestioning of its official history. And so he listened with “amazement” when his Scoutmaster read Yizhar’s novella aloud to him and a group of other boys. “I knew things hadn’t happened exactly as Zionist propaganda had said,” Loevy, who is seventy-seven, told me. “This story really opened my mind.”

The state broadcasting authorities initially rejected Loevy’s proposal, but, after a prolonged bureaucratic battle, he finally gained permission and an adequate budget, and completed the film. It was scheduled to air after the evening news on February 6, 1978. On the morning of the broadcast, however, state officials, led by the Minister of Education, declared that it could not be shown.

Turmoil ensued. Yossi Sarid, a left-leaning Knesset member, declared, “The flag of freedom of speech in Israel has been lowered to half-mast.” To protest the government censorship, Israel’s television station—there was only one in those days—decided to show nothing at all in the time slot: forty-eight minutes of a black screen.

Government ministers “viewed the directors of the Israel Broadcasting Authority as traitors,” Rogel Alpher, a television critic for Haaretz, told me. The film made plain that the War of Independence, for all its heroism, involved a crime—and, for many people, that implicit acknowledgment was impermissible for the public airwaves. Tommy Lapid, a journalist and a rising political figure, did not deny the events of 1948, but he argued that the film would inflame anti-Semitism among the Arabs. In the end, the right lost the battle: the Minister of Education lacked the authority to quash the film. A week later, on February 13th, the authorities agreed to show “Khirbet Khizeh.” But just once.

The evening of the broadcast, there was little traffic in the streets. Everyone watched it, and everyone discussed it. “Of course, some people on the right said that the expulsion of the Palestinians was what should happen with the rest of the Arabs in Israel!” Loevy recalled. “And there were some on the left who thought the film was disappointing because it didn’t show our soldiers being even more brutal.”

It was not shown again for fourteen years. “Today, a film like ‘Khirbet Khizeh’ would be impossible,” Alpher said. “You won’t be jailed for it, but the subject of the Nakba”—the Arabic term for the “catastrophe” of Palestinian expulsion and exile, in 1948—“cannot be mentioned unless you want to be branded a ‘leftist.’ ” As Israel has become more and more nationalist, as the left has receded since the failure of the Oslo Accords and the violence of the second intifada, more than a decade ago, the term “occupation,” kiboosh, marks its user as being outside the mainstream, and, for broadcasters, in journalism or in entertainment, it invites not only marginalization but hate mail, threats, and even angry phone calls from government offices. Many leading journalists, including a liberal like Ilana Dayan, the host of “Uvda” (“Fact”), an edgier version of “60 Minutes,” have told me that they think twice before using the word.

Perhaps the most daring moment on television came in 1998, the fiftieth anniversary of the State of Israel, with the airing of “Tekuma,” or “Rebirth,” a twenty-two-part documentary series that provoked criticism on the right for providing the Palestinian view of history alongside the Zionist narrative. The series included reporting on massacres, discrimination, expulsions. Ariel Sharon, in a letter of protest to the Minister of Education, called for the series to be banned from state schools, complaining that it “distorts the history of the rebirth and undermines any moral basis for the establishment of the State of Israel and its continued existence.”

Two decades later, the Israeli public is generally less welcoming of such self-examination. In the past several years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been portrayed in features such as “Bethlehem” and “Rock the Casbah” and in documentaries such as “5 Broken Cameras,” “The Gatekeepers,” “The Settlers,” and “Megiddo,” but these films seem to have more resonance abroad than they do in Israel. There is little daily discussion of the occupation, or of the mass displacement that preceded it. The economy is good, technology thrives, relatively stable alliances have been formed with Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf states––and life “on the other side of the wall” is of only episodic concern. The politics of the late Netanyahu era is the politics of one week to the next. The government’s various financial scandals far eclipse the Palestinian question in the news. Stability might be an illusion, but it is an illusion that, day to day, defeats most attempts to penetrate it.

“The problem of the Nakba has not been tackled much onscreen after ‘Khirbet Khizeh,’ ” Loevy said. “It’s a raw subject. The problem is this: if we are responsible, at least partly, for the flight of the Palestinian refugees, then we have to do something about it.” He went on, “Guilt and denial are twins. We know that what has happened to those old-time inhabitants, the Palestinians, may happen to us, and that counting on His promises may be walking on thin ice.”

“Fauda,” an Israeli series in Hebrew and Arabic that premièred in 2015 and streams in subtitled translation on Netflix, takes its title from the Arabic word for chaos; it’s also the Mayday code word used by the Israeli special forces when a mission goes belly up. A disguise has been seen through? Fauda! The getaway van stalls? Fauda! The story centers on Doron Kabilyo, a saturnine special-forces soldier who, as the series begins, has retired and gone off to live on a small vineyard, where he plays with his two kids, scowls at his wife, and, sometimes, makes wine. When his former commander visits and tells him that a notorious Hamas terrorist whom Kabilyo thought he had killed is, in fact, alive and planning more operations, Kabilyo rejoins his old unit. It’s an unfinished-business, one-last-mission plot. Set in the West Bank, “Fauda” makes a promise to go beyond the usual ingredients of the thriller series—intelligence gathering, interludes of violent action, and bouts of lugubrious reflection and splenetic recrimination. The setting is the flashpoint of a fifty-year-long occupation, and the show’s creators believe that they have made not only a deft work of entertainment but also a drama that gets at the political dynamic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Lior Raz, a former soldier in the special forces, conceived and wrote the series with an old friend, Avi Issacharoff, a combat veteran and a well-known journalist. Raz, who is forty-five, also plays Doron Kabilyo, although he is hardly a dashing Sabra or a natural leading man. Like many Israeli men, he shaves his head rather than suffer the encroaching indignity of male-pattern baldness, and his visage has a stubbly, moonfaced aspect. A three-inch scar, a souvenir from a car crash, slashes down across his forehead and lends him a man-with-a-past air. He is built as solidly as a trash compactor, and his resting expression is one of irritable disappointment.

Raz lives with his wife and children in a suburb just north of Tel Aviv, but he grew up mainly in Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim, one of the largest Jewish settlements in the West Bank—a city of about forty thousand that Israelis generally consider a bedroom community of Jerusalem rather than some sort of fanatical hilltop outpost. (Not all Palestinians make the distinction.) He is from a Mizrahi, or Middle Eastern, background; his father was born in Iraq, his mother in Algeria. His father was a career officer in the Israeli equivalent of the Navy Seals and in the Shin Bet, the intelligence services; when the family entertained, they did so in a way that would have struck most Ashkenazim as alien. People frequently spoke Arabic in the house and played music from across the Middle East. Later, his father ran a plant nursery, and Lior’s friends were Arab kids from Azaria and Jericho who worked there.

When Raz was eighteen, he joined Duvdevan, an élite counterterrorism unit that was conceived in 1986 and began operations not long before the first intifada erupted in the occupied territories. Duvdevan means “cherry” in Hebrew—a reflection of its cherry-on-top status in the military. It’s the model for the unnamed unit on “Fauda.”

Not long ago, I met Raz in the town of Giv’at Shmuel, near Tel Aviv, where his martial-arts instructor, an Army buddy named Nimrod Astel, has a studio. Their unit was stationed just outside Ramallah, the de-facto capital of the West Bank and the base for the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The ethos and the training resembled that of the Navy Seals—ruthless, brutal, and constant. Ignoring pain was no small part of the regimen. “We spent fifteen months getting punched over and over in the abdomen before we went to bed every night,” Raz said.

“We were eighteen, and you just don’t know what you are doing,” Astel said. “I thought we were going to be like James Bond, wearing black tie and drinking a Martini and getting the bad guys.”

“I’m between reasons right now.”

“Instead, we got fatigues and a falafel in Ramallah,” Raz said. Military service is compulsory in Israel, and he and his friends aspired to Duvdevan, he said, not for any ideological reasons but because “you want to be part of the best people in the country, to test yourself. You want to be true to your friends, to protect them and be part of a team that works together.”

The squad at the center of “Fauda” works much as Raz and Astel’s did. Its operations are performed as quick “in-and-out jobs,” to arrest a suspected terrorist or to disrupt a terror operation. Duvdevan’s members adhered to the maxim “In any shape, in any place, at any time.” Uri Bar-Lev, the first commander of the unit, told me, “Sometimes you look like a stone, sometimes like a tourist, sometimes like an Arab.” The series opens with members of the unit driving up to a mosque near Ramallah and, dressed as Palestinians, kidnapping a Hamas militant agent at prayer. In a later episode, Kabilyo seduces a Palestinian doctor, played by Laëtitia Eïdo, in order to get closer to a terrorist who is recovering from a gunshot wound in the hospital where she works. That sort of stratagem is pure hokum, but other operational details stick close to the real thing.

Members of Duvdevan do not recount past missions––those “have to remain dark,” Raz said––but they speak in highly moralistic terms about the unit, how they were selected for their sense of probity and poise. “We were chosen because we were meant to be calm, moral, not to lose our minds in the midst of trouble, to think, not to behave like an animal,” Raz told me. Duvdevan prided itself on the efficiency of its maneuvers, the avoidance of mass casualties. Astel said that when he hears of American forces dropping a bomb on a wedding in Afghanistan or a Russian aircraft destroying a hospital in Syria he has a hard time taking seriously the moral criticism directed at Israeli behavior in the West Bank.

“The job was to capture the bad guy as quietly as possible, to avoid killing or hurting anyone else,” Astel said. “At the end of every operation, there was a debriefing about what had happened, and you have to assess whether you have done a dirty job in the cleanest way possible.”

Three days after leaving the Army, Raz headed to Los Angeles with a hundred and twenty-five dollars in his pocket. He worked as a guard for Nastassja Kinski and then for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver. This life proved numbingly uneventful. “After the Army, guarding a house was pretty boring,” he says. Back in Israel, Raz worked as a drummer in a disco and as a creative director at an ad agency; prodded by a girlfriend to pursue his artistic ambitions, he started taking acting lessons and getting roles in various theatre and TV productions. And he began thinking of a project that would draw on the most dangerous years of his life.

For some two decades, Raz and his first comrades in the unit didn’t talk about the uglier side of their work, the price exacted on Palestinians, and the price exacted on them. “It all stayed there and deep inside of us,” he said. “As a person, you wake up eventually and discover that you have post-traumatic stress disorder. You realize you are tense all the time, stressed, you aren’t sleeping, you’re on edge, always on alert. I was giving a lecture the other day at some high-tech firm and I clicked the clicker for a snippet of film about ‘Fauda’ and just the sound of the show—the gunfire—set me off. I was suddenly so stressed. I was immediately looking for the door.” He went on, “We live in a post-traumatic society, all of us.”

It was only when Raz was in his mid-thirties that he began to grasp why he kept having the same dream, the battle in which his gun would jam or he would fire and the bullet would just dribble out of the barrel and plink on the ground. “You don’t feel the stress when you are in the unit. You are in fighting mode all the time,” he said. “It’s only later, when you are back home, much later, that you feel it in your neck, in your back, in your mind. It takes years to understand the situation. I went to a therapist nine years ago. I was about to get married. I was stressed. I just wanted to be a good husband. After about five minutes of the therapy, he said, ‘You have P.T.S.D., let’s talk about it.’ ”

What really put Raz’s mind at ease, however, was setting out to work with Issacharoff writing “Fauda.” “That was my real therapy,” he said.

The Israeli television business begins with an obvious disadvantage: the audience is roughly the size of Queens County. Ultra-Orthodox Jews tend not to watch commercial television, and many Palestinian Israelis, who live in Nazareth, Umm al-Fahm, Acre, Haifa, and other cities and towns, watch Arabic-language stations on satellite. The major production companies, Keshet and Reshet, which create programs for the biggest broadcast channel, Channel 2, struggle to break even; they hope to tumble into profit by selling properties abroad. The most successful example of that is “Hatufim” (“Prisoners of War”), an excellent series about two Israeli soldiers, abducted in Lebanon, who come home after seventeen years in captivity. “Homeland,” its American progeny, won eight Emmys for Showtime and big earnings for Keshet. HBO’s “In Treatment” also began with an Israeli version. HBO and Keshet will make a scripted series about the fateful events in the summer of 2014 when a Palestinian teen-ager was kidnapped and burned alive by three Israelis as retribution for the deaths of three Israelis three days earlier.

When Keshet and Reshet passed on “Fauda,” Raz and Issacharoff went to Yes, a satellite television provider that claims six hundred thousand subscribers. During the pitch meeting, they were told, not for the first time, that the script was too macho; women wouldn’t go for it. But, in the end, Yes took a chance. A glitch for Raz was that he had to audition for the lead role, a circumstance that he found “upsetting”—it reminded him of Sylvester Stallone being forced to negotiate to play the title role in his own script for “Rocky.” But that was hardly the main worry.

“Before we aired ‘Fauda,’ we were petrified,” Danna Stern, the executive in charge of Yes acquisitions and sales, said. “The title is in Arabic and practically all the dialogue is in Arabic and the picture of the main terrorist is not done in black-and-white. It’s painted in shades in between. We had a war room set up because we expected a shit storm.”

Raz and Issacharoff shared these anxieties. They feared that the right wing in Israel would say that the show had “humanized the terrorists”; they feared that the left, along with Arab viewers, would say that its portrayal of humane soldiers was a romantic farce and that it portrayed Palestinians only as terrorists.

“ ‘Fauda’ was an eyeopener to a lot of people in Israel in that it showed compassion, in a way, to a Palestinian terrorist, or at least you get a sense of why he would do what he does,” Issacharoff said. “You see people involved in terror as humans, as people who love, who have kids, who are not just flat bad guys in an action picture.” He was concerned that the subject was off-putting. “No one wants to talk about or see the conflict. It’s boring.”

“Fauda” aims to provide a complex portrait of both the unit and life in the occupied territories. The viewer is introduced to the extended family of the central terrorist: a wife who loves him but must pretend that he is dead; a protégé who reveres him but grows disillusioned with his ruthlessness; a young woman whose husband-to-be is shot to death at their wedding, and who, in her fury and despair, volunteers to be a shaheeda, a martyr, and strap on a suicide vest. All around are ordinary Palestinians who suffer under the detested occupation but go about their daily lives as best they can. The West Bank scenes were filmed mainly in Kfar Qasim, an Arab city just west of the West Bank. The city has a charged history: in 1956, during the Suez Crisis, it was the scene of a massacre of several dozen Arabs by Israeli police. In recent years, Israeli politicians, including Shimon Peres and Reuven Rivlin, have apologized for the crime.

Both Raz and Issacharoff consider themselves “pro-peace,” pro-two-state-solution. But they are not far from the Israeli mainstream. One morning, over breakfast, they debated some of the daily headlines, and it was clear that Issacharoff’s rhetoric on the subject is a shade to the left of Raz’s. He was once a staff writer at the left-leaning newspaper Haaretz, although he’s neither as analytical nor as ideological as some of his old colleagues there. Raz and Issacharoff both said that Israel made a mistake when it agreed to a huge prisoner release in order to gain the freedom of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was held captive by Hamas for five years. A familiar strain of fatalism joins Raz and Issacharoff, too. Raz, in particular, recites the litany of political resignation that is so common now: “We have no one to talk to”; “When we pulled out of Gaza, they started firing missiles.”

Issacharoff, who is forty-four, is better versed in Palestinian politics and the history of the conflict. First at Haaretz, and now at the Times of Israel and the Web site Walla! News, he has covered the occupied territories for many years. Like Raz, he comes from a Mizrahi family, and he is proficient in Arabic. He is gleamingly bald and wears an earring. After finishing his military service and his university studies, he worked for a while as a bouncer at a bar in Jerusalem and then as an apprentice radio reporter. He has a wire-service reporter’s metabolism, and a relish for action and high-profile scoops. While living in Jerusalem, he covered the West Bank and Gaza during the second intifada. At the time, there was no wall, no separation fence; the commute to Ramallah was fifteen minutes and he spent many hours there talking with Palestinian officials, activists, and terrorists. “I owe my career to Yasir Arafat and Marwan Barghouti,” he told me, referring to the two Palestinian leaders. Covering the intifada, he said, “was fabulous, it was crazy, so unexpected, so full of adventure.” The violence lasted from 2000 to 2005; around a thousand Israelis and more than three thousand Palestinians were killed. (With Amos Harel, the longtime military reporter for Haaretz, Issacharoff has written books on the second intifada and on the war with Hezbollah, in 2006.)

Issacharoff’s biggest scoop for Haaretz came in 2010, when he published a long report on Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, the leader of Hamas in the West Bank. Known to the Shin Bet as the Green Prince, a reference to the color of the Hamas flag, Mosab Yousef was an Israeli intelligence asset for a decade beginning in 1996, feeding the Shin Bet information that is said to have prevented many suicide-bombing attacks and led to the arrests of his father and Barghouti, who was a founder of Fatah’s Tanzim militia and has been in an Israeli jail since 2002. One of Yousef’s handlers in the Shin Bet told Issacharoff, “So many people owe him their lives and don’t even know it. . . . People who did a lot less were awarded the Israel Security Prize. He certainly deserves it.”

“It’s an internship—crime doesn’t pay.”

Yousef renounced Islam, and is in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. He had nothing but praise for Issacharoff, telling me that he decided to talk with him because “Avi takes risks, a very important quality for a successful journalist.” He trusted him because he spoke decent Arabic and was deeply connected with Palestinian sources on all sides. The first contact he had from him, he said, was “when he called me to forward regards to me from my father, who was in an Israeli prison at that time.” What Issacharoff did not know, Yousef added, was that “I arranged for my father’s arrest to save his life.”

Issacharoff met Raz when they were both young and hanging out in the same bars in Jerusalem. In an early episode of “Fauda,” one of the soldiers in the unit has a love affair with a bartender, who is later killed in a suicide-bombing attack. The episode is dedicated to Iris Azulai, who was Raz’s girlfriend when he was in the Army. “She was my first love,” Raz said. “She was one of the most beautiful women in Jerusalem, an amazing person. I’d been so insecure. I couldn’t believe she’d date me. All my self-confidence in life came from her.” One October morning in 1990, in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem, a young Palestinian, Amir Abu Sarhan, a resident of a village near Bethlehem, attacked Azulai, yelling “Allahu akbar! ” as he stabbed her to death with a fifteen-inch knife. She was eighteen. An off-duty police officer heard the screaming, drew his gun, and shot the Palestinian to wound him. He hit him in both legs. But, when the officer came over to arrest him, Sarhan had the strength to pull another knife and stab him to death.

“This was a Sunday morning, and I was in Ein Kerem Hospital getting my leg looked at for stress fractures,” Raz said. “I heard from someone there that there had been this attack. Iris’s brother called me and said she had been wounded. I just started to walk in a daze until my mother picked me up on the road.”

Sarhan was imprisoned until 2011, when he was freed, along with more than a thousand other Palestinians, in exchange for Gilad Shalit. More than two hundred of the released prisoners were serving life sentences for terror-related crimes. Raz has heard that Sarhan now works for Hamas television in the Gaza Strip. While Raz and Issacharoff were working on the script for “Fauda,” the Green Prince wrote to say that his sister was marrying Amir Abu Sarhan. “I met Mosab at the première of ‘Fauda’ in Los Angeles,” Raz said. “We hugged, but I didn’t know what to say to him or him to me.”

The intimacy, the proximity, of rivals and enemies is among the most striking aspects of the conflict. But it hasn’t prevented Israelis from registering a series of knife attacks or a confrontation around the holiest places of the Old City in Jerusalem, say, without ever dwelling on the larger source of tensions. “They put it out of their minds,” Issacharoff said. “They have a hard time waking up every morning knowing they have done something wrong, that they are responsible for this. It is also the result of the second intifada. The majority of Israelis lost hope in peace. The average Israeli says that the Palestinians are no partner for peace. The second intifada was a deep wound that you cannot heal. You think about it every time you go into a mall or a bus. There are still guards everywhere because of the suicide attacks. And the Palestinians work at forcing us to realize their presence. We left Gaza and they won’t let us leave it behind. The Israeli public just wants to bury the Palestinians beyond the wall, to be on defense and to live their lives on their own. But how long can that last? I don’t know. But I know that we are heading toward a catastrophe. Either we’re ending the Zionist dream—ending our status as a Jewish democratic state—or we will become one state for two peoples. Sooner or later, the status quo will explode. It won’t hold. Either the Palestinians will explode or the international community will explode and say ‘No more apartheid’ and they will sit on our necks.”

In the meantime, the creators of “Fauda” are enjoying their success. When Raz and Issacharoff were interviewed by Dan Senor, a former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, at an AIPAC convention in Washington, D.C., they were cheered like rock stars on a triumphant tour. A second season is on the way and the people at Netflix hope for a third. In August, Raz and Issacharoff signed a deal with Netflix, which ordered a season of a show about a joint C.I.A.-Mossad operation and is developing a second, “Hit and Run,” about a man who loses his wife in a mysterious car accident that leads to a political-espionage story. Raz is taking one meeting after another in Hollywood, and Yes has received a stack of offers from abroad to remake “Fauda” in different languages and settings: in Afghanistan, on the front lines of the Mexican drug trade, in operations against an American white-pride group. Raz is counting on moving his family to Hollywood soon.

The “Fauda” cast, too, is relishing its emergence from obscurity. Hisham Suleiman, who plays the lead terrorist in “Fauda,” has become a celebrity at home and beyond. He is an Arab resident of Nazareth Illit, a predominantly Jewish suburb of a predominantly Arab city in northern Israel. When I was in Tel Aviv, he visited the city market and the evening news showed footage of him being applauded, complimented, kissed. “It’s crazy,” he told me. “This happens wherever I go!”

Suleiman avoids talking about the occupation. “Usually, when I speak about myself, I try to talk only about my artist’s life, not politics,” he told me. “Journalists are looking for a boom, a sensation. I am very careful. But I am a human being and I care about all of this. Why, after a hundred years, are we still killing each other here? This is a beautiful land and the conflict has to end. There has to be a real peace, a finish to the kiboosh. It’s a lovely country where we can all find room to live together.”

And yet, for all the series’ success, the question remains whether “Fauda” is really all that daring or consequential. Gadi Shamni, a retired general in the Israeli Defense Forces who was once in charge of Central Command in the West Bank, caused an uproar last year when he said in a speech that Israel had “elevated the occupation to the level of art.” This was a complicated argument: in part, he meant that the Israeli military and security apparatus had learned to keep casualties and abuse to a minimum. But he told me that a show like “Fauda” had its virtues because so many Israelis were intent on ignoring the moral reality of occupation. “There is a generation in Israel who never had any kind of positive interaction with Palestinians,” Shamni said. “They see them coming to work in Israel or on TV when there is a stabbing or a suicide bomber. For children at the age of twenty in Israel, most of what they know about Palestinians is what they see on TV. The first time they meet Palestinians is while they are serving in the I.D.F., if they serve in the West Bank, in Judea and Samaria. So ‘Fauda’ is another way to bring into the Israeli living room something about what is happening on the ground. Does it reflect a hundred per cent what is happening, or the complexity? Some. It’s a nice show. On the one hand, the professionalism is good, it minimizes the damage. On the other hand, is this the kind of expertise we want? We do it so well, with minimal friction and casualties, the soldiers are very well trained, they are not only professionally trained for combat but also mentally trained for occupation; they understand the complexity they are within. But you have assigned yourself issues that are not the core business of a military. In the end, it corrupts our moral values.”

Diana Buttu, a lawyer who has worked as a legal adviser to the P.L.O., watched the series recently and told me that she found the experience disturbing. She did not share Shamni’s ambivalence, and when we spoke she made a compelling critique of “Fauda.” “In ‘Fauda,’ we do not see the occupation,” she said. “It is invisible, just as it is in the minds of Israelis. In fact, we never even hear the word. We don’t see a single checkpoint, settlement, settlers, or home demolitions. We don’t see any homes being taken over, or land being expropriated or anything of the sort. We see a nice brick wall, not the ugly eight-metre-high one, as the only sign that we are in the West Bank.

“Worse than all of this, assassinations—extrajudicial killings—appear normalized,” Buttu continued. “If you are not careful, you find yourself sympathizing with a group of assassins and thinking that their actions are fine, rather than illegal. You find yourself accepting that it is all right to hunt down Palestinians, killing a number of others in the process. For the writers, this is a fair fight—no occupation, just a game of who has better technology and more wits. And that, of course, is not the reality in which we live.”

Raz and Issacharoff told me repeatedly that they had received lots of compliments, by text and e-mail, from Arabs in the West Bank, Lebanon, Egypt, and the Gulf. But, unlike Yizhar’s novella “Khirbet Khizeh” and Ram Loevy’s television version, “Fauda” is ultimately content to entertain.

“When my father first published, he was considered a hero,” Yizhar’s son, Zeev Smilansky, told me. “The feeling of self-confidence in Israel then was so strong that it could absorb criticism and the things he wrote about. His books were read. My father was a devout Zionist in love with the drama of the country that was being built, but he was honest about what was so deeply wrong and what was so visible. Now we are divided, and our ability to see things clearly is gone. Hardly any young people know my father’s name. His books are no longer a part of the curriculum. The only people that remember him are the old-timers.”

Yizhar Smilansky died in 2006. The year before his death, he told an interviewer, “I looked out at the landscape. The landscape was a key part of my personality, so I saw the Arabs.”

But Yizhar’s daughter-in-law Nitza Ben-Ari, a literary scholar, told me, “We no longer see them. If you asked me what the West Bank or Gaza looks like today, I wouldn’t know, and it’s next door, really.” ♦This article appears in other versions of the September 4, 2017, issue, with the headline “Occupational Hazards.”
David Remnick has been editor of The New Yorker since 1998 and a staff writer since 1992. He is the author of “The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama.

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