Fauda: An Israeli Netflix Series that Makes Oppression Sexy

JERUSALEM (Opinion) — Palestinian resistance is legitimate and sanctioned by the inalienable right that all oppressed people have to resist their oppressors and occupiers, even with the use of arms. Israeli violence is raw and unchecked brutality intended to keep Palestinians from raising their heads. But the conventional wisdom is that Palestinian resistance is terrorism and Israeli violence is counterterrorism.

From time to time equivalency is drawn between the two, pointing out that both sides are “human.” While this can be misconstrued as “progress,” it is actually an insult to the cause of justice because there is no equivalency to be drawn between oppressor/occupier and the those fighting for their freedom.

In early 2017 a friend asked me whether I had watched the Netflix series “Fauda.” I said no, and this was the beginning of several weeks of persuasion, at the end of which I succumbed. “Fauda” is an Israeli-produced series about an Israeli paramilitary unit that is called in Hebrew “Mista’arvim.” The word “Mista’arvim” is a cross between the Hebrew word for camouflage and the word for Arabs.

While regular soldiers in the field wear uniforms and camouflage so that they will not be spotted by enemy forces, these are armed, undercover units that wear civilian clothes but dress and talk like Arabs.


The “Mista’arvim”

An Israeli policeman disguised as a Palestinian protester raises a pistol in air as he arrests a Palestinian demonstrator during protests against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Dec. 13, 2017. (AP/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

An Israeli policeman from a Mista’arvim unit disguised as a Palestinian protester raises a pistol in air as he arrests a Palestinian demonstrator during protests against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Dec. 13, 2017. (AP/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

Although similar units had been operating from as early as the 1950’s, the “Mista’arvim” unit was the brainchild of one of Israel’s most notorious killers — a man with the dubious distinction of being Israel’s most decorated soldier, who also holds the record for the shortest term as prime minister of Israel: Ehud Barak.

In the late 1980’s, during his tenure as the commander of the IDF Central Command, then-General Barak — who himself came up the ranks of Israel’s notorious special units and had participated in countless assassinations of Palestinians — thought it would be useful to have a military unit where the soldiers looked and sounded like Arabs. This would allow them to infiltrate Palestinian communities and collect intelligence, detain and kill without being detected.

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Since most Israelis actually come from an Arab background, that wasn’t hard to achieve. The unit was oddly named “Duvdevan” — “cherry” in Hebrew. Today the IDF; the Border Police, known as Magav; the Shabbak, or secret police; and even the prison system all have “Mista’arvim” units.

Oddly enough, though their work is classified, they are known to be active at protests.

Palestinian friends often identify them when they show up, even though dressed like locals. At some point, they will pull down their ski masks, pull out their guns and arrest young Palestinians who participate in the demonstrations. They are also known to provoke violence, which is then used to justify the violence perpetrated by the Israeli forces against Palestinian protesters. In “Fauda,” which in Arabic means chaos, they are portrayed as fighting big-time terrorists.


A distorted view in search of ratings

In an interview he gave during the Los Angeles premiere of the series’ second season, Lior Raz (known as Doron), the star of the show and one of its creators, claims that the show portrays Israelis in a “real” way. Then he goes on to say, in a manner that can only be described as condescending, that the show “humanizes” the other side — the “other side” being terrorists and suicide bombers, but they too have families and feelings.

Watch | Lior Raz interviewed about Fauda’s effect on Israel

Well, it is worth noting that today Palestinian suicide bombers exist only as fictional entities in shows like “Fauda,” where Israeli violence is inevitable and justified and Palestinian resistance is terrorism. Suicide attacks by Palestinians stopped more than a decade ago, though the popular misconception, as it is portrayed in the show and expressed by the interview with Raz, would have us believe that they are still a daily occurrence and pose an imminent threat to Israelis.

Suicide missions were a tragic chapter in the life of Palestine. Sadly, it seems that in “Fauda” they are being used to demonize Palestinians as irrational killers. Having felt firsthand the impact of suicide missions with the death of my 13-year-old niece, I find it irresponsible at best and deplorably cynical at worst to use them to score political points.

When historians look back at this period in the history of Palestine, a period that began after the 1994 massacre at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, if they are honest they will describe it as a time when an oppressed people used whatever means they had, whatever means necessary to fight their oppressors. They will recall too that on the issue of targeting civilians, there were several occasions when Palestinian leaders like Ahmed Yassin offered the Israeli authorities an agreement by which both sides would agree to prevent that from happening. The Israelis made no reply to these offers.

Palestinian arch-terrorists might be good for ratings but they too are no more than a figment of the imagination. The Palestinian resistance has and continues to be dedicatedly fierce and yet mostly unarmed.

For decades, prolific writers like the acclaimed novelist Ibrahim Nasrallah and young lesser-known writers from Gaza who publish online or manage to get books printed — poets like Samih al-Qasim and Fadwa Tuqan, playwrights like Dalia Taha, political and intellectual figures like cartoonists Naji Al-Ali and Mohammad Sabaaneh — have been using their pens and their voices to inspire people to stand and demand justice.

For more than a decade the Palestinian call to impose boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on Israel has been active and the popular resistance, which operates through unarmed protests and campaigns in towns and villages all over Palestine, has gained prominence and respect. All of these have shown dedication to an uncompromising yet unarmed struggle.

Mirroring the general adoration that the Israeli military and paramilitary groups enjoy in the U.S., in “Fauda” these “fighters,” if one can call them that, are portrayed as sexy, rugged heroes and yet strangely “human.” In the first episode of Season One an equivalency is drawn between the arch-enemy Abu Hassan, a Palestinian who we are told “has the blood of 116 Israelis on his hands,” and Doron, a retired commander within the unit who returns to duty to kill him. At one point they are both seen preparing for a possible encounter. They are shown coloring their beards and wearing Kuffiyas to hide their identities.

A screenshot from Episode 1 of the Netflix series 'Fauda'.

A screenshot from Episode 1 of the Netflix series ‘Fauda’.

They are both shown within the complicated realities of their personal lives — complications that are the result of their lives as fighters who are obsessed with their cause. However, there is no symmetry here. Doron is obsessed with killing; Abu-Hassan is obsessed with fighting for the liberation of his people.

Another scene where the similarity between the two sides is more than hinted at is when Doron returns to HQ and is greeted by his team. They greet each other speaking in Arabic; they kiss one another on the cheeks like Arab men do; and, when they have a moment of relaxation, they play Arabic music and dance Arabic dances.

There is a strange phenomenon here that is prevalent in and characteristic of Israeli society: almost everything that is “cool” is somehow Arab. When Israelis use slang, they use Arabic words; when they play music, it is mostly Arabic music or Israeli music with strong Arabic overtones; the most popular food is “oriental” food and the most popular restaurants are “oriental,” which is a word commonly used to replace the less favorable word “Arab.”

Another interesting twist is that the creators of the show decided to promote the show by posting billboards in Israel with Arabic writing. This is unheard of in Israel, as most Israelis do not read Arabic and the language is associated with terrorism. The billboards spooked Israelis who complained to various city authorities, and in a few cases the signs were actually removed.

הזייה : שלט פרסום בערבית של הסדרה ״פאודה״ יוסר מגשר בעיר נשר בשל דרישת חבר המועצה שלומי זינו להסיר שלט בשפה הערבית. @zeragil היה אומר בהחלחח pic.twitter.com/O8GiAmEKlV

— Eli Levi (@10elilevi) December 28, 2017


Putting it in perspective

Well-made TV dramas are addictive and “Fauda” is no exception. Still, we would all do well to remember that it is part of Israel’s well-oiled public-relations machine, which knows how to transform Israeli brutality into sexy, heroic images. Like the IDF Women Facebook page and the “Shabbat Shalom” and “Happy New Year” greetings from IDF troops that the IDF spokesman on Twitter posts on a regular basis. Not unlike “Fauda,” these are attempts to cover up the fact that these soldiers are hard at work maintaining a violent racist regime and brutalizing the people of Palestine.

In a piece in The New Yorker, “Fauda” is compared to other Israeli dramas that claimed to portray the Palestinian as “human” or the Palestinian saga from a somewhat Palestinian perspective. The piece goes back to an early play called Khirbet Khizeh, which describes the forced evacuation of a Palestinian village in 1948 by pre-state Zionist forces. Several decades later it was made into a movie that I recall watching while in high school. There was a great deal of anger that the Zionist forces were shown in a negative light.

However, even in this play the forced evacuation was portrayed as a single incident, “bad apples” if you will, and never as part of the well-planned and methodically executed ethnic cleansing campaign that it truly was. Similarly, “Fauda” claims to show the “terrorists” in a human light but nonetheless perpetuates the notion that Palestinian resistance is terrorism and Israeli violence is counter-terrorism.

While Fauda’s fictional Palestinian arch-terrorist “Abu-Ahmad” may have taken the lives of 116 Israelis, the state of Israel has killed thousands upon thousands of unarmed, defenseless Palestinians over a period of seven decades — and there seems to be no end in sight. Whether one agrees with the methods of Palestinian resistance or not, it is the result of and a reaction to the brutal settler colonialism that is Israel. No amount of sex or violence or good drama can cover the fact that “Fauda” is merely another means of glorifying Israeli brutality and terrorism.

Top Photo | Netflix promotional image for ‘Fauda’.

Miko Peled is an Israeli-American activist, author, and karate instructor. Peled authored The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, and speaks at venues around the world.

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