18 October 2012 The Jewish News


Gideon Raff, writer of hit C4 drama Homeland, tells Sharon Feinstein Gilad Schalit’s surprise visit to the set in Israel left cast and crew stunned
Actress Claire Danes in Israel, where
Homeland’s Beirut scenes were filmed
“Can I get a photo of myself choking you?” Gilad Schalit asked Iranian actor Navid Negahban, who plays terrorist Abu Nazir in the hit TV show Homeland. And he did. The young Israeli soldier, who suffered the unimaginable horror of five long years in captivity in Gaza, came as close as he ever could to turning the tables and throttling a dangerous terrorist – but this was on the set of Homeland, which began its second series on Channel 4 last week.
When Shalit made a surprise visit to the set in Israel, where Beirut scenes were being filmed, in a split second the throng of noise turned to silence. Writer Gideon Raff, who created Homeland’s predecessor, Prisoners Of War, and then adapted the script for US and UK markets as Homeland, describes Shalit’s effect on cast and crew as “holy”.
In a fascinating interview, Raff revealed: “Gilad contacted me a few months after his return and I invited him to the set of Homeland when we shot in Israel. It was one of his first outings after his return. I didn’t tell the cast and crew he was coming. All I said was, ‘In a few minutes we’ll have a special visitor and I want no pictures.’ Everybody expected an Israeli celebrity to arrive – a TV or film star.
“Israeli sets aren’t known for their quietness but suddenly Gilad Schalit walked in and there was total silence and almost a holy feeling, which came over everyone. The first thing Mandy Patinkin (who plays Saul Berenson) did was hug him. Mandy was very moved.
“Gilad sat next to me on the monitor and watched a few takes. Claire Danes spoke to him, but Damien Lewis wasn’t there, unfortunately, so didn’t get to meet him. The first time I talked to Gilad I was stunned. He’s an Israeli, shy, timid, introvert kid who’s had five years of his life stolen from him and he’s going to go into treatment.
“He didn’t talk about his captivity at all. For Israel he is so much more than that: a symbol of how we perceive life, and look at our soldiers, so it was very special for all of us. “I don’t know what the lasting trauma will be for Gilad. It’s too soon to know, but captivity is not something you ever fully come back from. What I wish for Gilad is that he does get over it.
“He has a huge status in Israel. Times have changed. Almost all previous prisoners of war dived into anonymity when they arrived back, partly because that’s what they want because of the shame associated with being a prisoner of war, and partly because Israeli society doesn’t want to hear their problems any more after paying such a high price for their return.
“With Gilad it’s different. He’s not been back long and because of the new paparazzi culture he can’t go out without people following him, so he’s gained a celebrity status which I hope doesn’t interfere with his recovery. In Israel everybody loves him, that’s the truth. Like every Israeli citizen I watched his homecoming with tears in my eyes. I liked him very much, and hope I’ll see him again.”
Raff, whose home is Tel Aviv, wrote Prisoners of War while living in Los Angeles, and was deeply surprised that Americans aren’t focused on their prisoners of war in the same way that they are in Israel.
He said: “All my American friends are well-educated and politically aware, but none know there is a US prisoner of war (Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl) who has been held captive by the Taliban for two and a half years now. Somehow it’s not an issue that’s discussed.
“That is so different to Israeli society.” In the second series of Homeland, Claire Danes travels to Beirut to uncover the mystery of Brody’s past.
As the scenes were being shot in Israel, Raff made sure that blonde actress Claire had a real insight into the country. He took her to Akko, where Jews and Arabs co-exist, around Jerusalem where Raff was born, and to Tel Aviv. For Raff, recently turned 40 and presented with his first Emmy for Homeland, it has been important that the actress speaks out in support of Israel while she is in the US and still in the process of filming this second series.
“It’s crucial that people like Claire say nice things about Israel and she’s very vocal about it,” as he puts it. “Israel gets such a bad rap in the press, you can’t say something good about Israel without getting accused of not believing in human rights, which is such crap. Israel is a democracy in a very rough neighbourhood and I’m extremely proud of it.”
He adds:“A nuclear Iran is a very scary issue and not just for Israel but the whole world. At some point Israelis start to believe people when they say they want to destroy us, because they do. Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric about Israel has been so evil its convincing.
“Nobody in Israel wants a war. They’re all talking about how to avoid it, but the head of a very big country is talking about eliminating us from the map and that’s scary and cannot be ignored.”

  Prisoners of War Season 1 is available on DVD from Arrow films. Homeland continues on Sundays, 9pm on Channel 4