Through Pris­on­ers’ Eyes

The Star of the Show That In­spired ‘Home­land’ Dis­cusses How TV Af­fected Re­al­ity in Is­rael

Forward Magazine - - Arts & Culture - By Sigal Sa­muel Sigal Sa­muel is the For­ward’s deputy dig­i­tal ed­i­tor.

‘Pris­on­ers of War” the Is­raeli TV drama that in­spired “Home­land,” will be re­leased on DVD in the United States on July 8 — and the tim­ing couldn’t be bet­ter. “POW” con­cerns three Is­raeli soldiers who fi­nally get to re­turn to their fam­i­lies af­ter 17 years in cap­tiv­ity, only to dis­cover that life in the pub­lic eye is its own sort of prison. It’s an is­sue that’s re­cently been in the news, par­tic­u­larly here in the U.S., where Amer­i­can soldier Bowe Bergdahl was freed from Tal­iban cap­tiv­ity by means of a con­tro­ver­sial pris­oner swap.

Adi Ezroni, an Is­raeli ac­tress and pro­ducer known for her doc­u­men­tary work on child traf­fick­ing, plays one of the lead roles in “POW”: Yael Ben-Horin, the sis­ter of a cap­tured soldier who is pre­sumed dead but who con­tin­ues to visit her in ghostly ap­pari­tions. (We soon find out that he’s alive and, like Ni­cholas Brody of “Home­land,” ques­tion­ing his loy­alty to­ward his coun­try.) Ezroni sat down with the For­ward to talk about “POW,” “Home­land,” and how each show shapes the pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion about real pris­on­ers of war.

Be­fore “POW” was re­leased, there was an up­roar in the Is­raeli me­dia. The pub­lic didn’t want you to touch this sub­ject while a real-life Is­raeli soldier, Gi­lad Shalit, was in cap­tiv­ity. Then ev­ery­one fell in love with the show. Why?

You fear what you don’t know. The big­gest fear for peo­ple was how such a sen­si­tive sub­ject was go­ing to be han­dled. Once they saw that it was han­dled with in­tegrity and knowl­edge, then it was a dou­ble whammy: It had such a strong an­chor in re­al­ity, and it al­lowed peo­ple to deal with the sub­ject in a way that

In the DVD’s spe­cial fea­tures, your co-star Ishai Golan says “POW” “contributed enor­mously to the re­lease of Gi­lad Shalit and to the whole pub­lic opin­ion about pris­on­ers of war.” Do you agree?

Def­i­nitely. Gi­lad Shalit was al­ready in ev­ery­one’s hearts, but hav­ing such a highly rated TV show meant peo­ple were talk­ing about it on a daily ba­sis. It pro­pelled and en­er­gized the cam­paign to re­lease him. And then when he was re­leased, it al­lowed a much more ma­ture way of wel­com­ing him back, in terms of both the gen­eral pub­lic and the me­dia.

Af­ter broach­ing the topic of what hap­pens to pris­on­ers when they come back, af­ter see­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties of rein­te­gra­tion and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion — things that were never re­ally dis­cussed in Is­rael be­fore — there was an added re­spect for their pri­vacy. There could’ve been a huge me­dia frenzy, but rather than gos­sip and pa­parazzi, it al­most felt like, “Okay, we just went through this fic­tion­ally, and here it is

‘“Home­land” is great en­ter­tain­ment, but not nec­es­sar­ily re­al­ity.’

hap­pen­ing in re­al­ity — and we know how to deal with it bet­ter.”

With pris­oner swaps, there’s al­ways a de­bate over whether the price a coun­try has to pay is worth it. Did “POW” im­pact that de­bate?

The show def­i­nitely im­pacted the dis­course. But in Is­rael, be­cause it’s a coun­try that’s smaller than New Jersey, there’s al­ready a very per­sonal con­nec­tion to the pris­oner. With Gi­lad Shalit, you feel like you know his fam­ily. You are his par­ents, you are his sib­ling. The face of the pris­oner is much more a part of your life. Here [in the United States], I don’t think many peo­ple know how many [Amer­i­can] POWs there are. I don’t think peo­ple knew who Bergdahl was be­fore he was re­leased.

Were you sur­prised by Amer­i­cans’ re­ac­tion to Bergdahl’s re­lease — how some ac­cused him of be­ing a de­fec­tor? Would Is­raelis have re­acted that way?

It seemed po­lit­i­cally charged — like it was about whether you were proObama or anti-Obama. In Is­rael, it’s first and fore­most about the fam­ily re­ceiv­ing their child back. To say that be­cause [Bergdahl] left his post for what­ever rea­son, he should be left be­hind — to me that’s a very ag­gres­sive point of view.

If Amer­i­cans had been watch­ing

“Home­land” is great en­ter­tain­ment, but not nec­es­sar­ily re­al­ity — it’s glossier. It def­i­nitely played up the ques­tion of what Brody’s loy­al­ties are. “POW” erred more on the side of the real. Only in Sea­son 2 do we broach that [ques­tion of loy­al­ties]. It’s re­ally much more of a char­ac­ter drama.

“Home­land” showed how when you fo­cus on the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and take the in­ves­ti­ga­tor as the main char­ac­ter, the whole for­mat does a 90-de­gree shift. The eyes that you’re look­ing through are the in­ves­ti­ga­tor’s. In “POW,” the eyes that you’re look­ing through are the pris­on­ers’. And that matches the Amer­i­can re­ac­tion of look­ing at Bergdahl through in­ves­ti­ga­tors’ eyes ver­sus the Is­raeli re­ac­tion of look­ing at Shalit through pris­on­ers’ eyes. I think bipo­lar dis­or­der can at­tract much more fire than de­pres­sion. Yael suf­fers from melan­choly — a film over her life — but the fact that she sees and speaks to her brother doesn’t im­pact her pub­lic re­spon­si­bil­ity, her job. So in that way I think it was prob­a­bly much eas­ier for me.

Also, with Car­rie, her men­tal state is not a re­sult of this spe­cific sit­u­a­tion [with Brody]. It’s just some­thing she has. And though you want to be sym­pa­thetic to it, it con­flicts with what you want her to fig­ure out in the plot. Whereas my char­ac­ter’s state is a re­sult of what hap­pens to you as a sib­ling — and as a coun­try — when some­thing tragic like this hap­pens.


Sis­ter Soul­jah:

Adi Ezroni played the sis­ter of a cap­tured soldier on ‘POW.’

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