The onset of war this weekend sparked by Hamas attacks on Israel has largely shuttered Israel’s film and TV industry as the country grapples with the insurgency and a death toll that has surpassed 1,100.
Israeli theaters have gone dark and most air travel has been canceled. Many of those active in media and entertainment are impacted by the tragedy and are volunteering in extensive ways. Some are even risking their own lives to bring food and supplies to the nation’s southern region, including the biggest hotspot in the violence, Gaza, where at least 150 Israeli citizens and soldiers were held by Hamas fighters as hostages.
Writer-producer Gideon Raff, creator of drama series “Prisoner of War,” which was adapted by Showtime as “Homeland,” told Variety that he has friends who “have lost their siblings, their brothers, their sisters, their parents — everything.”
Adar Shafran, a producer and filmmaker who chairs the Israeli Producers Association, said production work across the country has halted as the nation grapples with the trauma of renewed warfare.
“We’re in shock. Everything is on hold now and everyone is volunteering to help, to bring supplies and water to the south and also now to the north which is now being attacked,” Shafran told Variety.
The attacks came 50 years almost to the day after the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Kan, one of Israel’s top TV networks, had been scheduled to launch a five-episode drama series, “The Pier,” on Oct. 9 that examines the events that sparked the 1973 conflict. But that series was hastily pulled and will air at another time, Kan chief executive Golan Yochpaz told Variety.
“We worked for a long time at an investment of many millions of shekels,” Yochpaz said. “The series describes what happened at an Israeli outpost in October 1973 on the coast of the Suez Canal in Sinai, at the high noon of Yom Kippur, when an Egyptian army tried to invade the outpost and actually start the Yom Kippur War.” Now, amid the surge of terror from Hamas, Yochpaz said the series will air at a later date. In light of the past few days, it will inevitably take on “new historical and social meanings.” The broadcaster’s entire schedule has been changed to focus on coverage of the war that has left the nation reeling.
“It’s the biggest terror attack in Israel. The whole country is mourning, angry, sad and devastated, and also resolute to win,” Raff said.
On top of donating money, Raff said he’s a participant in several WhatsApp groups that have been created by TV and film insiders to help send food, clothes and other basic necessities “to the people who’ve lost everything.” Raff added that there is a push “to connect people who’ve been through this horrible trauma with the media outside of Israel so that they can tell their stories.”
Raff has been working on a series for Kan, although production has been halted for the time being.
Raff is at present in Tel Aviv, which has been spared from extensive violence so far. There’s an undeniable “sense of devastation and anxiety” for all Israelis knowing that terrorists are at work and so many people are still held hostage, he said.
“The level of violence and cruelty is unfathomable. I don’t think the country will ever be the same, but I think we will still be strong and I believe we will win,” Raff said. He is nevertheless optimistic and has faith that Israel will achieve peace and bring an end to the Palestinian conflict.
“We want to win against terror groups. It goes hand in hand with wanting peace. It’s not mutually exclusive,” Raff said. “Freeing a place like Gaza from Hamas, this murderous organization that only is interested in killing and not building,” Raff says. “The way to peace is dialogue. The way to peace is finding bridges. The way to peace is creating opportunity. It’s not killing people.”
The violence has also come close to Shafran. A member of sound crew for the producer’s upcoming Netflix series “Bros” — the streamer’s first Hebrew-language original series — was killed while on a cycling trip during the attack that began Oct. 7.
“It’s a very tragic story. He had scheduled an email to be sent on Saturday at 9 p.m. to tell us that he would deliver the series on Sunday but by the time we received that email from him, he was dead,” Shafran said. “Israel is a small country so we all know many people who have died and are being held hostages.”
“We are changed forever. We were used to having some rounds of combat with Gaza, but now it’s something different. They invaded villages and murdered hundreds of civilians, children, women, families whose homes were raided. It’s completely insane,” said Shafran.
Shafran is based in Tel Aviv and is driving to the hard-hit area to help provide food for citizens and soldiers alike.
“People are still in the safe rooms. They can’t go outside and they don’t have food. Everything is closed. All the stores are closed. They can’t find anything,” Shafran said.
The shock of the surprise attacks has spurred discussion about how Israel’s security and intelligence systems missed the signs of impending attack. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, had been facing public protests from liberals opposed to his efforts to curb the power of the nation’s Supreme Court and other policies. For now, however, people are focused on simply surviving, Shafran said.
“Nobody will talk about the Supreme Court anymore. Priorities have changed,” Shafran said. “Now we’re trying to stay alive.”
Sivan Klingbail, editor-in-chief of financial newspaper The Marker, struggled under the weight of the devastation and loss all around her as well as the uncertainty ahead.
“It’s hard because I’m a journalist and I have more than 100 people working for the paper so I have to stay strong, but this is breaking me,” Klingbail told Variety. “We are all waiting here. Praying that we will be strong. That we will win. But now we don’t know what’s going to happen with Hezbollah, with the Gaza border still open, and what’s going to happen in the West Bank.”