For the past two years, Fauda has been a slow-growing international sleeper hit. The 12-episode Israeli thriller – which you can stream, subtitled, on Netflix – is about Israel’s mista’arvim, counter-terrorism units specifically trained to infiltrate local Arab populations. The show is half-Arabic and half-Hebrew, and tells the story of a retired operative brought back into the forces to finish off a Palestinian terrorist he thought he’d already killed.
It was created by Avi Issacharoff, a prominent Israeli reporter on Arab issues (whose Times of Israel articles are frequently printed in The CJN), and Lior Raz, a former special forces operative who is also the show’s lead actor. Raz has been touring North America promoting the show and stopped at Toronto’s Beth Tzedec Congregation on March 6, in an event co-organized with Hillel Ontario and the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre. The CJN spoke with him that day.
What first inspired you to write about the mista’arvim?
Two things: first, nobody in Israel knows about it. It’s kind of in the shadows. It’s really complicated – as an undercover agent you have to be yourself, but also someone else. The complexity is really interesting. Second, I wanted to talk about the price those warriors are paying – with their families, their friends, everyone.
Did you always know you would star in the show yourself?
Yeah, in the beginning – you know, I’m an actor. To me, it was obvious that I’m going to be the lead. But still, I had to do an audition. We auditioned many people to do this part, because I wanted to know that it’s not just because I wrote it. I deserve to do this part. I wanted to know I’m the best for this role.
Well, you did write it with yourself in mind, so you had an advantage.
Listen, I wasn’t in the meetings about me. Just the director and casting director were there.
It’s an incredibly well-cast show. Tell me a bit about the casting process.
There are many Israeli Arabs in the show, and it was very interesting to find lead actors. They didn’t know if they wanted to participate, because of how it sounds – they thought they would be the bad guys, and many of them didn’t want to participate. But after they read the script, they saw that we are respecting them, we are respecting their language, and they can really act, not just be a bad guy.
Were any members of the cast or crew Palestinian?
No, they are Israeli Arabs. Palestinians are not allowed to work in Israel.
Hisham Suliman, the Arab-Israeli actor who plays the lead terrorist, made a comment a couple years ago about an Israeli soldier being killed in Palestine, which caused a bit of media controversy. How did the personal politics of the cast and crew affect the filming process?
We were shooting during Operation Protective Edge, and we were in the war zone. But still we worked together, 100 Israelis and Arabs creating a peaceful bubble during the war. It was amazing. It was the kind of co-operation you don’t see so much in Israel.
So no personal politics, disagreements during the filming process?
We had some arguments, healthy arguments, but we got to know each other much better through our conversations. The Arab population in Israel is very complicated, and this was actually the first time in my life that I sat down with them, listened to them, talked to them about the complexity of their lives.
What parts of Fauda are accurate reflections of real life?
I’ll tell you one story. In the show, there’s a woman who dies in an explosion in a terror attack. This was based on a true story that happened to me – my girlfriend, Iris Azulai, was stabbed by an Arab terrorist when we were together – and we showed how it affected her boyfriend like it
Why did you feel the need to revisit that in public?
This is art. In order to make good art, you have to bring it from your experience in life. For me, it was actually quite a healing process. I didn’t talk about Iris for 20 years, I think, and now I’m talking about her all the time.
Whenever a character dies in the show, it’s violent and sudden, and I found myself in disbelief every time. What was your approach to filming death?
We’ve had to say goodbye to characters we really love, and actors we really love. But you know, this is life. People are dying. This is the kind of show where people are dying, Israelis and Palestinians. So you want to show it in the show. But it’s hard. It’s hard to say goodbye.
What was your original goal with the show?
I wanted to get everything off my chest. We didn’t know it was going to be such a successful thing, even in Israel – we thought the only people watching were going to be me and my mother, and Avi’s mother. For us, every day is a big surprise. Our goals were just to create. We don’t want to change the world, we don’t want to make peace. I want to, of course, in my personal life, to make peace, but this is not the purpose of the show. The byproduct is that people all over the world are seeing it, Arabs and Jews – and Arabs love the show, and Jews love the show. You can make people get closer. You can make them become friends and understand each other and feel compassion to the other side. This is the byproduct of it.
Was there a moment you realized this show was a hit?
In Israel, the first time I went with the character Boaz – the actor, Tomer Kapon – we went out for a beer. And immediately, hundreds of people were starting to run toward us to take a picture. Then, I truly understood that it’s getting crazy. And here, when I came to Miami two weeks ago, the immigration officer, instead of asking me what is my purpose of visit, she asked me about Fauda.
This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.