Red Skies: A new series that shows a complex side of the conflict

It portrays a loving friendship between an Israeli and a Palestinian, and shows how these friends are torn apart by the conflict.

 MOVING AND ENGROSSING ‘Red Skies (photo credit: Courtesy of Reshet 13 /Eyal French)
(photo credit: Courtesy of Reshet 13 /Eyal French)

We have seen so many series and movies about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that are about war, hatred and bloodshed, and so the new series, the moving and engrossing Red Skies, which starts running on June 19 on Reshet, is a welcome change, in that it shows a more complex side of Arab-Israeli relations.

It portrays a loving friendship, and shows how these friends are torn apart by the conflict. Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Daniel Shinar and set in the early 2000s, it tells the story of Saar (Maor Schwitzer), a young Israeli from a troubled family, who befriends Ali (Amir Khoury), a Palestinian medical student, when they work together as young teens at a hotel restaurant in Jerusalem, not long after the signing of the Oslo Accords. They discover that they share a birthday, at a time when it seemed briefly as if the future held peace.

Ali comes from a warm family in the West Bank, who embrace Saar in a way that he desperately needs, and the two bond over their love of video games, which they work at designing. There’s also a girl, Jenny (Annie Shapero), an American aspiring photojournalist they both love.

But the series opens early on in the second Intifada, and as much as the three love each other and want their friendship to continue, they can’t completely ignore what is happening around them and the two young men soon find themselves on opposite sides.

Finding each other on the opposite side

 MOVING AND ENGROSSING ‘Red Skies' (credit: Courtesy of Reshet 13 /Eyal French)
MOVING AND ENGROSSING ‘Red Skies' (credit: Courtesy of Reshet 13 /Eyal French)

In the opening episode, Ali is planning to leave to study medicine at Harvard and Saar takes him to show him a surprise, that the video game they designed is now in an arcade, but the violence of the Intifada interferes with their night out and the three are lucky to escape.

This opening sets the tone for the series, which interweaves their complicated personal lives with the conflict. Jenny and Saar are a couple, but she and Ali clearly still have feelings for each other. Ali has a young son with a woman he likes but doesn’t love and when she wants to follow him to the US, he tells her firmly that she is welcome to come but they won’t be living together.

But as he plans to leave, a branch of the security services contacts Saar and tells him that Ali’s brother is a terrorist, wanted for several deadly attacks. Saar can’t believe it at first, but they pressure him, telling him that if he doesn’t help them, they will arrest Ali. The stage is set for the story of how their paths diverge, even though they continue to care about each other.

TO GIVE any more detail would be to reveal spoilers – pretty much everything I’ve mentioned so far can be gleaned from the trailer – and suspense is an important element of the series.

The fast-paced series features many of Israel’s top actors, who make the characters especially vivid. Amir Khoury, one of Israel’s finest actors, has also appeared in Image of Victory and The Little Drummer Girl, was most recently seen in Ghosts of Beirut, where he played a notorious real-life terrorist, but his character is more multi-faceted here and he holds the screen with real star power.

Maor Schwitzer, who can currently be seen in the second season of the police drama, Line in the Sand, conveys the intensity of an introverted game designer trying to protect his best friend. Newcomer Annie Shapero is appealing as a naïve but gutsy American immigrant trying to understand what’s going on.

The supporting cast includes many of Israel’s finest actors, among them Alona Sa’ar (Dismissed), Yaakov Zada-Daniel (Unsilenced, More Than I Deserve), Loai Nofi (Fauda, The Good Cop), Hitham Omari (Sand Storm, The Women’s Balcony), Lihi Kornowski (Losing Alice) and many others.

The series was created and written by a group of all stars of Israel’s current golden age of television. Along with Shinar, it was created by Ron Leshem (Euphoria, No Man’s Land), Daniel Amsel (Valley of Tears), Amit Cohen (No Man’s Land, False Flag), and director Alon Zingman (Shtisel). The series was produced by Yoav Gross (Carthago, Manayek), along with Len Blavatnik and Danny Cohen, of Access Entertainment, who serve as executive producers. Additional writers include Ali Waked (Bethlehem); Ala Dakaa, best known previously as an actor; Noa Mannheim; and Tamar Key.

The combination of a suspenseful fact-based plot, strong acting and a moving story of friendship makes Red Skies one of the best Israeli series in years. The strong emotional side of the series should strike a chord with audiences abroad, who will likely connect to the universal aspects of the story and also enjoy the meticulously researched look into the terrorism and intelligence gathering during the Second Intifada.

While ala dakka worked on Red Skies as a writer, you can now see him act in the docu-drama, Savoy, which just became available on Netflix. Savoy, created by Zohar Wagner, is a recreation of a terror attack in 1975 on a seedy beachfront hotel in Tel Aviv. Dana Ivgy plays an Arab-speaking hostage, who mediates between the attackers and the police and gets to know one of the terrorists, played by Dakka, over the course of the night.

There are many of those mildly entertaining rom-coms on Netflix and the best of the most recent ones is You Do You, which comes from Turkey. As all Netflix fans have learned in the last few years, while Turkey is best known for its telenovelas, it also produces well-made series and movies in many genres, from science fiction to comedy.

It’s also interesting to glimpse day-to-day life in the country, since as outsiders we tend to know mostly about the country’s historical sites and turbulent politics. You Do You is a movie that could be remade in Tel Aviv with no significant changes to the script. It tells the story of Merve (Ahsen Eroglu), an aspiring fashion designer, who lives with her mother, a retired journalist, and their extended family in a building owned by Merve’s estranged father.

She has an eclectic sense of style and her homemade outfits look like something out of Emily in Paris, but she can’t catch a break in the fashion industry. Her friends are all creative types, artists and ambitious app designers. After her father abruptly announces he is selling the building where her family lives, she has to find a job quickly, and, through a complicated set of circumstances, starts working for an entrepreneur who owns several fashion brands and apps.

The entrepreneur, Anil (Ozan Dolunay), who has a secret grudge against her family, wants to punish her for the misdeeds of her parents, but this is a rom-com, so you can guess what happens. In spite of the predictability, Ahsen Eroglu and Ozan Dolunay are both so attractive and charismatic that it is fun to watch it play out and it’s enjoyable to get a look at the world of youth culture and hi-tech in Istanbul.

The series creators have definitely seen the series, Fleabag, and Anil frequently breaks the fourth wall to make sardonic remarks, just as the heroine did in that BBC series.