Fauda’s Season 4, an Unlikely Unifier of Arabs and Jews, Explodes on Screen

Avi Issacharoff, co-creator of the hit TV series, draws from real-life situations but ‘apologizes’ for not being a mouthpiece for either the Israeli or Palestinian sides
February 10, 2023

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Avi Issacharoff, co-creator of the hit TV series Fauda, is a veteran journalist and now provides expert Middle East news analysis for several outlets. With a background of serving in an undercover unit of the Israeli army, Avi brings a unique and informed perspective to his work on-screen and off.

Along with his writing partner, Lior Raz, Issacharoff has been instrumental in creating one of the most talked-about and successful shows in recent times. Fauda, now in its fourth season, has captivated audiences with its high-stakes, action-packed storyline and has been praised for its nuanced and realistic portrayal of the complex political landscape of the Middle East.

In 2021, Issacharoff and Raz also created, together with Dawn Prestwich, the political espionage thriller Hit & Run.

With a wealth of experience covering the region, Issacharoff has established himself as a leading voice in the Middle East. During his time as the Arab affairs columnist for the daily Haaretz and as the Middle East affairs correspondent for Israeli public radio, he covered numerous significant events and won Israel Radio’s “best reporter” award for his coverage of the Second Intifada in 2002.

In 2004, Issacharoff wrote the award-winning The Seventh War: How We Won and Why We Lost the War with the Palestinians with Amos Harel. In 2008, he and Harel published their second book, 34 Days: Israel, Hezbollah, and the War in Lebanon.

The Media Line: To call Fauda a runaway hit doesn’t do it justice; not merely in terms of the viewership it brings to Netflix as its most popular series, but as an Israeli production demonstrating enormous popularity in Arab countries and No. 1 in Lebanon.

Welcome Avi Issacharoff to The Media Line!

Avi Issacharoff: Thank you, Felice! Thank you very much!

TML: Fauda, let’s begin with the name. I mean, everybody knows that it means chaos [in Arabic] by now. Why’d you choose it?

Avi Issacharoff: Everyone became fluent in Arabic! I noticed that lately. We chose it for two reasons, I would say. One I would say is from the Israeli side, and one is from the Palestinian side. I’ll start with the Palestinian side. Basically, the situation on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the years of 2000–2007, and I’m sorry to say but also in the last few months, what we see is chaos, meaning a lack of Palestinian Authority functioning, a lack of law and order, and the emergence of militants, or militant cells, small groups, militias that are doing whatever they feel like, whatever they want on the ground. And that situation was described as fauda.

Back then in the years when I was a journalist on the ground, people were using that term to describe not only the situation around them but actually the way of living, meaning, just imagine yourself living with no law and order around you, with no police, with no authority. So that creates a kind of very chaotic situation. And this is fauda on the Palestinian side.

On the Israeli side, for us, and I mean while [Fauda co-creator and star] Lior [Raz] and I were serving in the undercover units in the Israeli army back in the early ’90s, 30 years ago, so fauda was a kind of code name to describe a kind of situation in which you are exposed by locals, and the mob or people are trying to get to you, to kill you, to hurt you, and you are trying to call for rescue to come. And this is the code name that you report: “Fauda, fauda, fauda!

TML: I have to say the timing of season four’s release was amazing! It coincided with actual news as nine Palestinians died as the Israeli army entered Jenin claiming it was to thwart a terror attack, but two days later a terrorist killed eight worshippers leaving a synagogue [in Jerusalem] on the Sabbath. What were your thoughts as you learned this was happening with the coinciding of your season four?

Avi Issacharoff: So, just keep in mind that our opening in Israel was in July [2022], so we didn’t plan anything to go with the news, but it’s very sad. In many cases we found that Fauda is either following the news, or the news are following Fauda, because we are dealing with very realistic materials, because we are dealing with very realistic situations and realities that might happen on the ground, and sometimes reality does take us there.

While we were writing it, it was two-and-a-half years ago, and Jenin was just at the beginning of the emergence of chaos and we saw many militants over there. And again, as a journalist, I traveled a lot to Jenin. I visited this place lots of times, especially the refugee camp, and slowly, slowly you could see, you could notice three years ago that there are more militants on the streets and there’s less of the Palestinian Authority, and the Israeli army is not that enthusiastic about going into the refugee camp.

So, in a way, we took this very sensitive region, this very problematic region, and we used it in order to describe how a terrorist cell that is combined out of Hizbullah on one hand, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad on the other side, can emerge in a place where there is no law and order.

TML: Do people come up to you ever and say, “I’m that character”?

Avi Issacharoff: Yes, it happened to me a few times. It happened to me with Nurit, the undercover woman; Rona-Lee Shimon, but it happened with Captain Eyov, of course. And a few people claimed that they are Captain Eyov.

TML: We won’t mention names, will we?

Avi Issacharoff: No, no! But that was their nickname while they were in the Israeli intel: Captain Eyov. It’s not their real name, of course. But others, Steve is Steve and we know exactly who he is. It’s very unique. It is inspired by a real character that we know (or that we knew) that was serving with Lior in the same team, and other characters too, like all [of them] are almost [all] inspired by true people.

TML: So, there are two sides to my next question. The military officials see the program as giving away the farm, or is there an element of deterrence here?

Avi Issacharoff: I think that Fauda brings a dramatic story. It’s not an attempt to deter. It’s not something that gives up secrets. It’s just a story. A good drama. It’s inspired by true events, but it’s not real life. I mean, I think that reality is way more complex than even Fauda.

Although Fauda is very complex, reality is way, way more complex than that, and we’re just trying to give a good story, [and] not more than that. So, excuse me for not being a part of the hasbara attempts of the State of Israel, and excuse me for not being a part of the Palestinian campaign against Israel. We are just trying to give a good show.

TML: Avi, what surprises you most about the success of Fauda?

Avi Issacharoff: By no doubt, the success of Fauda in the Arab world, this is the thing that surprised me more than anything else. But to be honest, every time that I hear that Fauda succeeded in the Israeli market or outside of Israel, it’s a surprise for me. This is not something that I nor Lior saw coming, and when it became popular in Israel it was a kind of a shock for us. When it became popular all over the world, it became even more shocking, and then the most shocking thing was when we learned that it is very, very popular among Arab states.

Note that in Lebanon just a couple of days ago there was an article in French that was published and the headline was “Fauda: The TV Show That the Lebanese Hate To Love.”

TML: It’s interesting that there are many that we’ve tried to reach who watch it who would not talk about that publicly in certain parts of the Arab world.

Avi Issacharoff: Of course! But I’ve spoken to so many people that have Lebanese friends. I know some Lebanese that do talk to me, of course. Everyone is watching Fauda! It’s crazy! Everyone in Lebanon is watching Fauda, and I wonder what the Secretary General of Hizbullah Hassan Nasrallah has to say about it.

TML: Or the head of the PA security? I think there’s a long list.

Avi Issacharoff: Yep. On the Palestinian side, I know that they watch it. Again, it’s about Palestinians and most of the characters on the other side are Palestinians. Some now in the fourth season are Lebanese, but Fauda was very popular in Lebanon also in the third season, and not only in the fourth season.

TML: The role of female characters has developed in the course of the series, in particular season four’s Maya Binyamin, who portrays the sister of a Lebanese source and a respected Arab Israeli policewoman played by the noted journalist Lucy Ayoub, and the role of the senior commanding officer, Meirav Shirom. [These are] strong women who are playing these characters. Is there a message here? Did that evolve in the storyline?

Avi Issacharoff: Well, what we were trying to do is not to send the message. I think that we’re both like two kids from Jerusalem at the end of the day, and people are asking us about Fauda, “What is your message?” Guys, there was no message! We just wanted to do something fun [and] to do a good show, so I think that the minute that you come out of the equation [with] the message thing, you understand that it’s like two guys who want to write a good show. That’s it!

Then of course, you have the reality, and in reality, you know, more than 50% of the population here in Israel is women. So, of course, you cannot ignore it, even in the special forces, even in the most sensitive, secretive units on the Israeli security side, you’ll find so many women: Mossad, Shin Bet, army intelligence, etc., etc.

So, we are just trying to make it real. Our Meirav [Shirom] who is playing Dana met real female characters that are in the Shin Bet, in the Israeli internal secret service, and this is what they do. They are Dana, not in the show but in real life. So again, I think that we just try to do is show more complexity.

Maya, I think, is one of the best characters that we had in Fauda since Dr. Shirin [El Abed] in the second season, because she’s not part of it. She’s drawn to it by the tragic developments on the ground. She’s just trying to be a good police officer in the Israeli police, but the reality is just tearing her apart and dragging her into the darkest places which she will need to decide what is she.

TML: How did this change you as a journalist?

Avi Issacharoff: First of all, I’m not a journalist anymore. You know, it’s hard for me to say that, because it’s my instinct, because this is me, Avi, I’m a journalist. It’s my second name, Avi Issacharoff, the journalist. This is how people know me in Israel; as a journalist who is covering the Palestinian side and the Middle East for the last 20-something years, but basically, I became more focused on telling stories to TV and cinema.

I still write as a journalist, but more as an analyst, so given the bird’s [-eye] view, and not from the small alleys of the refugee camps and villages. And I think that you’ve known me for quite a few years now and you remember my old happy days as someone who was traveling in Gaza and the West Bank and meeting all the…

TML: Well, we’ll get to that in a minute.

Avi Issacharoff: But now, now I sit in my office in north Tel Aviv and I’m a little bit [of a] schmendrick [foolish or contemptible person] we call it in Hebrew, like a spoiled kind of high-tech guy. Like the street that I’m in, in [the Tel Aviv neighborhood] Ramat Hahayal, it’s so full of high-tech businesses and technology people, so at 1 pm you go out and look for the right place to eat lunch and you go back to the office and try to write the next story.

TML: Your real-life reporting has been something that you’ve seen, that you’ve covered, certainly at a demonstration on Nakba Day, embedded in tunnels, and co-writing books [such as] The Seventh War: How We Won and Why We Lost the War with the Palestinians and 34 Days: Israel, Hezbollah and the War in Lebanon.

Years ago, you participated in the Mideast Press Club where we brought Israeli and Palestinian journalists together. Do you think this could happen again when today we see so much toxicity between Israelis and Palestinians for the most part?

Avi Issacharoff: I think that it will be very, very hard to combine Israeli and Palestinian journalists. I’m sure that you’ll find enough Israeli journalists that would be happy to do that. I doubt that you’ll see enough Palestinian journalists that would jump to this type of occasion, because the minute that it would be out, that something about it will be published, they will be “the collaborators,” “the traitors,” and I don’t think that for them it serves any kind of an interest. So, definitely, the situation changed not only on the ground but also amongst a community that was always collaborating. These are the journalists.

Once upon a time, a teacher of mine in the university, when I studied about the Middle East, who is a very old-school, known analyst for Palestinian issues, Danny Rubinstein, said that in more than 100 years of conflict, two sectors continued to collaborate and to play together. One is the criminals, and the other one are the journalists. And I’m sorry to say that, but lately, the journalists are not any more collaborating as they used to play.

TML: American reviewers spoke on the human element. That you cover the human cost of the conflict humanizing antagonists. A Palestinian leader told me you pegged it in the way you give true feelings of both sides. Is this maybe Fauda’s grid element.

Avi Issacharoff: I’m sure that this is part of the thing, this is part of the story and the success. I suspect that also our intention is to bring something that would make you feel real, authentic, so it’s less of a Hollywood-style type of TV show, less of a Hollywood movie. It gives you the feeling like you’re there with the people, like you’re a fly on the wall in a room with them. You can feel the pain. You can hear their voices. You can smell the smells that they are smelling, although it is TV, and I think that this is a part of the secret of the success.

TML: Did you ever wonder watching Fauda if it would ever change the mind of a would-be terrorist or discourage an Israeli from joining an elite unit?

Avi Issacharoff: I don’t go there. I don’t think that this is something that really happens. People are smart enough to understand that this is a TV show. So I don’t think that they’ll change their minds. If someone wants to be a terrorist or a freedom fighter – and it depends on who you ask of course – he will do that, with Fauda or without Fauda.

And on the Israeli side the same [thing]. If someone wants to go and become an undercover soldier, so I don’t think that Fauda… [would be what makes them do it]. You know, maybe Fauda encouraged people. We know that the numbers of people that are volunteering to those kinds of units has jumped dramatically because they are the good guys, they are the heroes.

But honestly, I don’t think that Fauda is the thing that can change people’s minds yes or no if they already decided.

TML: Can you tell us about season five? You have a cliffhanger there at the end of season four. We don’t know yet about season five.

Avi Issacharoff: We don’t know if we’ll have season five. We’re still under negotiations. We definitely hope to get something, to do something, but it’s not really in our hands right now.

TML: And can you tell us about the new spy series which is based on news events in Israel and the United States involving a fight against terrorism?

Avi Issacharoff: So, it’s going to be aired in late spring in the US on Showtime, and it tells the true story of the longest manhunt in the history of the CIA and the Mossad after a terrorist who was responsible for the killing of more Americans than anyone else till Osama bin Laden.

TML: Avi, parting words?

Avi Issacharoff: Nothing special, just go watch the fourth season of Fauda if you didn’t watch it yet. Let’s just hope that reality will prevail one day and bring us peace, instead of another very bloody season of Fauda.

TML: Avi Issacharoff, co-creator of Fauda, I really appreciate your time with me on The Media Line.

Avi Issacharoff: Thank you! Thank you very much!

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