A new show on Saudi television has portrayed the struggles of Jewish people living in the Gulf around the time of the establishment of Israel.
Aaron’s Mother on Saudi channel MBC depicts an elderly Jewish woman living in the region during the 1940’s and 50’s, and has been broadcast across the Middle East during Ramadan.
Played by Hayat Al-Fayad, the main character can be heard saying in one scene: “people here used to live like brothers, not divided by religion.”
In one episode, set in 1948, word spreads amongst the show’s villagers that Israel has been established. One character shouts “the Jews have raped Jerusalem” before a Jew is found dead in the local synagogue.
Al-Fayad said in an interview about the show that “we must inform the new generations [that] this did exist in the Arab countries.”
Saudi commentator Hussein Sobokshi said on Al Arabiya TV that “the Arab audience, especially the Gulf audience, is not used to seeing Jewish characters except in evil roles, like a traitor or a spy. Here, the audience see signs of Jewish culture for the first time on Gulf screens.”
The show has not gone without controversy. According to NPR, some Palestinians are boycotting the show, with one Palestinian TV critic Yousef Shayeb suggesting the show demonstrates the Gulf’s closer ties to Israel.
Despite refusing diplomatic ties with Israel until its conflict with Palestine is resolved, it is an open secret that many Gulf states have seen deepening ties with Israel in recent years.