On the streets of Tel Aviv and a few towns nearby, the TV series Fauda enacts an intimate version of the Middle East conflict that's transfixed the world for generations. Stories from Israel often deal with the reality of terrorism and politics, but the first two seasons of Fauda (a third season is promised for 2019) are deftly crafted fiction, a vivid narrative of murder and revenge, personal betrayals and on-the-run love affairs. Fauda, an Arabic word, means chaos, and for sure the characters in Fauda lead chaotic lives.
Frequent gunfights and desperate searches for enemies would themselves create chaos. It becomes more chaotic when we realize that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) undercover anti-terrorist group is riven by conflicts within its separate levels. Agents on the ground are suspicious of the army officer who runs them, and the officer in turn has a bitter relationship with the cabinet minister to whom he reports. This is not purely an Israeli problem. When the story moves to the Palestinian side we discover that Hamas is barging in on the Palestinian Authority and the Islamic State also wants to get a piece of the action. On the other hand, we see Israeli army officials collaborating with Palestinian leaders to prevent either side from doing something truly catastrophic.
These unlikely relationships are so well portrayed that we don't doubt their validity as they unfold. Fauda is not only the best television ever produced in Israel, it's among the best series created anywhere. The writing, casting and direction are all first class.
It's a mixed language series, with Jews in the Israeli parts and Palestinians played by Israeli Arabs. The TV audience follows them through Hebrew, Arabic or English subtitles. Although the series is shot within Israel's borders, the producers try to show Arab life, especially in the crowded alleyways of densely packed Nablus. But the main character in the first two seasons is Doron Kavillo, an Israeli army undercover agent.
He's played by Lior Raz, who was once a special services soldier in the real-life Israel Defense Forces. He wrote many of the Fauda scripts and created the series along with Avi Issacharoff, an Israeli journalist who writes for the Times of Israel. Doron dominates the first scene in Season One and his damaged, war-torn face is the last image we see in the final episode of Season Two. We've been following his near-death experiences for a long time and certainly he'll still be around when Season Three shows up on Netflix next year.
Raz has explained that he wanted to make a TV series about the life of secret agents because "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." Also, "I wanted to talk about the price those warriors are paying -- with their families, their friends, everyone." He's delighted that "Arabs love the show, and Jews love the show."
Doron's love interest is a radiantly beautiful doctor, Shirin (LaŰtitia E´do), part of an Arab family. He lies to her, claiming to be part of Palestinian Preventive Security. Soon Doron is engaged in an extra-marital relationship with Shirin. When she learns the truth about him, she still loves him. He also has a wife who is having an affair with one of his colleagues. But the intense love shared by the fighting men is just as powerful. Many have been taking the same terrifying risks together over many years, growing emotional bonds that continue to dominate their lives.
As the series begins, Doron comes out of retirement. He's well known for having killed a notorious terrorist, but the army has discovered that the man is still alive -- and, as we soon learn, plotting fresh atrocities, one them involving sarin nerve gas. Doron gives up his retirement project, a vineyard, and rejoins his old unit to hunt an old enemy. From there to the end, the story maintains its unflagging intensity.