Suliman’s journey from ‘Fauda’ to Knesset to Nazareth

Hisham Suliman been busy during the pandemic working on new productions at the Fringe Theater in Nazareth, where he is a director as well as an actor.

HISHAM SULIMAN in the new KAN series ‘Sweetie’s Party.’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
HISHAM SULIMAN in the new KAN series ‘Sweetie’s Party.’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Hisham Suliman, one of the stars of Fauda, has become famous for that role around the world and is one of Israel’s busiest actors, but he says he’s staying put in his native Nazareth.
Suliman has a small but key role in the new series premiering on Kan 11 on March 7 at 9:15 p.m., Sweetie’s Party (in Hebrew, Motek bul b’Emtza), a political satire created by Shmuel Hasfari. Suliman said he was happy to be part of this ensemble comedy.
It has the same biting tone as the Julia Louis-Dreyfus show, Veep, and tells the story of a young reality TV star who, through a series of coincidences, becomes a Knesset member. The series, which will likely be the most talked-about show in Israel this spring – especially since it is being released just ahead of Israel’s fourth national election in fewer than two years – highlights the foibles and bedrock corruption in the political system, notably the huge salaries and perks MKs receive.
Suliman plays an Arab Israeli Knesset administrator sent to run her orientation. Sweetie, who is not exactly familiar with Jerusalem or anything to do with government, finds it odd that it is an Arab who is teaching her how her own government runs.
It’s a fitting role because Suliman himself is in an unusual place in his career and has done much to change Israelis’ thinking about what Arabs can do in the entertainment industry. His breakthrough role was as the most wanted terrorist in the West Bank, Abu Ahmad, aka The Panther, in Fauda. But he was able to bring out the depth and sorrow in this character in a way that elevated and added complexity to the entire show.
“Fauda was an important turning point,” he said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to raise his profile as an actor with international audiences. “No one thought it would go this far.”
While this may have made him a star around the world, he sees his Fauda success as a stepping-stone to fulfilling himself creatively, through doing work that will touch people deeply. “I’m not just an actor, I’m a creator,” he said in a recent Zoom interview. “I am someone who is building all the time.”
Suliman, who is the 12th out of 14 children, faced opposition from his father, a tailor, and his housewife mother when he decided he wanted to be an actor. His parents did not see a way for an Arab in Israel to make a living as a performer. But he went to Tel Aviv anyway and studied acting at the Yoram Loewenstein Performing Arts Studio and opened a branch of that school in Nazareth in 2019. “From the day I finished studying, I returned to Nazareth,” he said. “I am maximizing my potential as a teacher now.”
He has been busy during the pandemic working on new productions at the Fringe Theater in Nazareth, where he is a director as well as an actor. He and his wife, actress Rahik Haj Yahi, are creating a show called Voices, which tells the story of women in Arab society and about the discrimination and chauvinism they must fight against from the perspectives of different female characters.
“We don’t speak of just the place of women, we speak of the whole society and how it holds women back,” he said. “It’s not just a problem of Arab society, it’s a problem women face everywhere, in Jewish society and all over the world. But we show it from the perspective of Arab women.” His wife and the other actresses are creating the show in a workshop and bringing their own experiences to it, including their experiences of being attacked and being afraid to speak out.
“We’re also showing the connections between the generations, how some women have internalized the discrimination and oppression and have perpetuated it, while others have helped younger women break free,” he said. “The subject is very complex.”
Theater projects and his work as an acting teacher are important to him, but he also loves acting and has worked steadily since he finished acting school. In addition to Fauda, he has appeared in more than 20 other films and television shows, including a small role in Steven Spielberg’s Munich. He also had important parts in Your Honor, the Israeli series that has been remade in the US with Bryan Cranston and Yuval Adler’s film, Bethlehem. He has roles in a number of upcoming series and movies, such as Amos Gitai’s Laila in Haifa, which premiered at the Venice International Film Festival in September but has not yet been released, and Medinah, a dystopian series that melds commentary on climate change with science fiction.
“I love doing all kinds of projects, all around the world,” he said, but a move to the US or Europe is not in the cards. “The spiritual atmosphere of Nazareth enhances my work, it brings me inspiration.”