Early on in the writing process of Fauda season five last year, the hit show’s star and co-creator Lior Raz suggested the idea of a story about group of Hamas terrorists making their way across the Gaza border and taking over one of the kibbutzim on the Israeli side.
Avi Issacharoff, creator of the series, admits ruefully that he shut down the idea, deeming it outlandish. “We had an argument about it and I remember saying, ‘Guys, what are the chances that tens of terrorists will get to the border and the IDF wouldn’t have any indication of it? That they wouldn’t be shot down? They’d be killed before they got close, surely?”
He sighs ruefully; still shocked at how wrong he was. In many ways he’s an expert in the ways of the Palestinians – as an Arabic-speaking Israeli he not only went undercover among the Palestinians like the special forces group depicted in Fauda, but as a journalist he also wrote about Hamas, and even met many of their leaders. But now he admits that he never truly understood Hamas – and the way he got it wrong shows how the Israeli authorities got it wrong too.
“There were indications they were planning this; Israeli intelligence was told they were planning it a year ago,” he says. “There were female officers who saw them training and warned it was unusual. And even the night before there was some indication of what was going to happen – from what I understand there was a meeting scheduled to discuss it at 8am.”
And yet they got it wrong. Why? “It is the billion-dollar question,” says Avi. “It is hard to explain unless you think of the policy towards Hamas through one word: ‘containment’. There was conception that Hamas was deterred. If you look at Hamas through a Western, logical point of view, then it is nuts what they did, knowing that if they tried to killed five soldiers or 50 soldiers then we were going to try and destroy them, kill them all. And then they killed 1,200 people, kidnapped 240.”
In some ways Hamas’ success has worked against them. “Because they went so far there is a consensus in Israel that there had to be a ground invasion, that we had to do whatever was needed to bring them down. They also thought organisations like Hezbollah would join them, they expected the West Bank to join them and the Israeli Arabs too. But they killed Israeli Arabs – they shot a pregnant woman in a hijab.”
He shakes his head, still stunned. “I think the whole of Israel is in a kind of post traumatic national phenomenon. I don’t think there is anybody in Israel today who doesn’t know someone either killed or kidnapped in or since October 7.” Sadly, that includes himself. Fauda crew member Matan Meir was killed while serving in the IDF in November, and Avi’s stepdaughter’s boyfriend Shahar Friedman was killed in action just a few hours after Avi had been down to the frontline to visit him. Fauda star Idan Amedi was badly wounded, although Avi happily reports that he is now on the mend.
We are speaking ahead of a fundraiser introduced by columnist Josh Glancy at St John’s Wood synagogue in aid of the Tel Aviv University Trust’s programme to help soldiers back into education. As a former student of the university it is a cause close to his heart.
Avi himself has seen some action since the Hamas attack. On October 9 he, Lior and friends from a group called Brothers in Arms – which was made up mainly of reservists demonstrating against the Netanyahu judicial reforms and which switched tack immediately after the Hamas attack – spent a day helping to get civilians still under attack by the terrorists out of the frontline.
“On the Monday I got a call saying there were groups of people who still needed to be evacuated to safety and so that’s what we did. We went and collected families. The whole time there were rockets being fired – every couple of minutes there were sirens and we would have to stop and find safe rooms. We’d see terrorists running – at one time I had a mother and her two children in the car with me and just behind I heard a terrorist shooting at us. I just hit the gas and moved as quicky as I could – I didn’t even have a gun.”
While Avi did volunteer to go back into service he was told he was both too old and too useful as a high profile journalist and the Fauda creator – that he needed to use his talents in another way. He is doing talks and writing articles trying to explain what happened, while still not fully understanding it himself.
He struggles to explain the reaction from certain parts of the world, particularly in the West – in the UK and America in particular – where people in the streets are marching for Hamas – or at the very least demanding a ceasefire without understanding that Hamas has to be defeated. While he says he saw naked antisemitism once before – from a Hollywood producer – now he sees how much of it there is in the world at large.
“The vocal ones are in favour of Hamas – they see them as ‘freedom fighters’,” he says incredulously. “These people who did the most terrible terrorist atrocity since 9/11 – who killed more Jews than have been killed in one day since the Holocaust. The way this stupidness and craziness has taken over is something I can’t understand. There was this complete provocation from Hamas, going into Israel, massacring civilians, raping women, beheading burning. That is not something that any state will live with.
“They say we deserved it. They try and contextualise the slaughter of innocent people. They are so stupid; they use words like colonialism, but Israel wasn’t in Gaza since 2005. They say there was a siege but if there was a siege why did they say there was a siege after October 7? I can’t get over how ignorant these people are. When they say ‘Free Palestine’ do they understand that Hamas is a dictatorship that took Gaza by force? That they killed 160 Fatah members? That they force people to follow Sharia law?
“It is so ridiculous that it makes me angry. And it has changed something in the Israeli perception. We tried to be nice; we had 19,000 workers coming into Israel from Gaza every day to help their economy. One of the kibbutzim they slaughtered was creating a new way to get electricity to them.
“I don’t like that civilians are being killed in Gaza. Hamas has created this Catch 22 situation – they attack from inside populated areas knowing that there will be a retaliation. And they hide in tunnels which they don’t allow civilians into – they are only for Hamas. And yet people are marching for Hamas.
“Now we realise that no matter what happens, even if Hamas slaughters thousands of Israelis, these people, these ‘good’ people, don’t care. At the end of the day, you can’t see it as anything more than antisemitism. It is pure antisemitism. So, excuse my French, but f*ck them.”
Amid this new world, a new series of Fauda is being written. Previous plans have been torn up; Avi and Lior have changed, Israel has changed and both these things have to be reflected. “What we had written became totally irrelevant and so we are reinventing the show just as, in some ways, Israel will need to be reinvented; we need a new IDF, a new government, a new Prime Minister because Israel is going to be need to be rebuilt.”
He’s trying to find some sort of light among the despair, the trauma. He hopes that Israel will have a reset too. “We are united now and we will come back stronger.”
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