"If you really want to understand the Arab-Israeli issue, come to my country," said, Israeli actor-musician Tsahi Halevi, who is on a trip to India to commemorate 30 years of diplomatic relations between India and Israel.
Halevi is famous for, among other shows and movies, Fauda, an Israeli show regarding the missions of the Israel Defense Force. The show was a huge hit in India during the COVID-19-induced lockdown in India.
He is reportedly going to play a part in the first Indo-Israeli co-production, although he did not reveal too many details about it while attending a press conference in Delhi on 5 May that was held just before the celebrations began for Israel's national day.
He also sang Kishore Kumar's Tere Jaisa Yaar Kahan at the national day celebrations.
Speaking to The Quint over the weekend after having visited the National School Of Drama and The Piano Man Jazz Club (where he even performed a gig), Halevi talked about his inspirations, his time in the Israeli military, his views on Palestine, and how art helps build bridges between clashing communities.
On Ruby Myers, aka Sulochana
"I was exposed through a friend of a mine, a British-Indian journalist, who I met a few years ago, to the story of Ruby Sulochana. It was amazing to know that one of the earliest Indian actresses was actually of Jewish origin," Halevi told The Quint when asked about any inspirations from India with respect to cinema.
Ruby Myers, who is more famous as Sulochana (her stage name), was an Indian silent film actress of Jewish ancestry, and was one of the highest paid actresses during the peak of her career.
"I did some research about her and now I also want to create a movie about her, about Indian cinema, and about this connection between Indianness and Jewishness. It is fascinating."
'Like You See in Fauda': Halevi on his Time in the Military
"I was in the special undercover unit, like you see in Fauda. That is actually what I did in the army. I did four years, as an officer. It was back in the 1990s. I served in Gaza and also in the West Bank."
With an apologetic smile, he added that he cannot "expose too many details" about what he did.
"The reality of things is much more different than what you see on television."
On Arab Countries Around Israel
"Egypt was a great experience. I had chance to live there, four years after the peace agreements were signed. It was a very educational experience."
The Camp David Accords are a pair of peace agreements signed by then Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, which were concluded in 1979. With the accords, Egypt became the first Arab country to recognize Israel.
"Apart from Egypt, I did travel to Jordan two or three years ago. It was beautiful. Unfortunately, I wish we could travel to other countries like Lebanon or Syria but we can't. Now we have the Abraham Accords, so I might be going to Dubai and Bahrain at the end of the month. It's very exciting to finally be able to travel to these countries."
The Abraham Accords are a joint statement to mark the normalisation of relations between Israel and the UAE, and between Israel and Bahrain. It was brokered by the US administration led by former President Donald Trump.
"Things are getting better now, and this is the vision I hope to achieve as well. I had a chance to visit Morocco as well. My mother was born there. I had two projects in Morocco. One of them was a film called The Angel in which I played the role of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi."
A Short Take on Palestine
"When people ask about the situation in Israel and the Palestine conflict, people don't know that we have 20 percent of Arab-Israelis living in Israel. There are lawyers, judges, and there are people in the government. It's a very complex issue."
He also expressed his disappointment with how the issue is portrayed on social media.
"A lot of people very easily express themselves strongly with slogans, but they have no depth. But it's very easy to go that way in one or two sentences, taking sides without fully understanding the issue."
Some Movies Reccos to Know Israel Better
"Since this was the project that really exposed me to acting, a movie called Bethlehem is a good place to start."
"There is another one called The Band's Visit. It is about an Egyptian band coming to the south of Israel, and then it goes on to show the similarities that we have with them."