On Dec. 6, 2006, the body of Tair Rada, 13, was found in the bathroom of Qatzrin’s Nofey Golan school in northern Israel. Her body bore marks of severe violence. A construction worker who worked at the school at the time, Roman Zadorov, was convicted of the murder after he made a confession. (He later retracted that confession.) For 9½ years — most of which Zadarov spent behind bars — the Israeli public has continued thinking about this horrifying murder. In fact, many Israelis including Rada's mother, Ilana Rada, did not believe that Zadorov killed Rada.
This appears to be one of the reasons for the dizzying, perhaps unprecedented, success of the four-part documentary drama that deals with the murder — "Shadow of Truth" — which aired on Channel 8 in March. The show's episodes were downloaded more than half a million times on video on demand, and nearly 1 million people watched content on the channel’s Facebook page. Even State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and President of the Supreme Court Miriam Naor responded publicly to the show.
“It’s a huge and rare success, certainly for a documentary drama,” a source at Channel 8 told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity.
Even before the TV show aired, the Facebook group "All the truth about the Tair Rada murder" numbered 200,000 members. Its members have talked for years about alternative theories, not to speak of conspiracies, regarding the murder. According to them, Zadorov, whose appeal was rejected by the high court, is innocent. “Many people have become obsessed with the topic, devoting many hours to it,” Ari Pines, the show's co-director, told Al-Monitor.
The first episode of "Shadow of Truth" presents the prosecution’s version of the story in a way that convinces the viewer that Zadorov killed Rada. The second episode presents exactly the same evidence but in the defense’s version, and the viewer believes Zadorov is innocent. “It’s a matter of presentation,” Pines said. “The show is about stories people tell and how easy it is to believe them when you only hear one side. The viewer is like the judge in this instance — there is no forensic evidence; there is the story of the prosecution and the story of the defense, and you have to decide.”
The third episode deals with the theory that Rada's friends were the ones who killed her. The most sensational episode, which took the show to the headlines and television newscasts, was the fourth and final episode. This episode presents evidence that the public was not previously aware of, according to which the former partner of a mentally disabled young woman claimed that she confessed the murder to him. The prosecution quickly responded and claimed that this testimony was previously investigated and discounted.
The TV show did not reveal new information but presented the material like a thriller. The design, the editing, the music — all these were borrowed from the genre of the drama shows. Following the international trend of shows such as "The Jinx" and "Making a Murderer" and the popular podcast "Serial," the Israeli creators of the show took a real incident and shaped it into a story for TV, which was enticing to watch, scary and sleep depriving.
"The hysteria concerning this affair was always there," said Neta Hoter, a television critic at the Mako website who admits that she has also followed the story for years. She told Al-Monitor, “They [the creators] identified a trend and made the information accessible and clear. They did it brilliantly. The fourth episode became a horror movie, very American. People love stories with tension and drama that deal with sensitive and explosive topics in human life. On the other hand, everything was true — and that makes it tangible and scary.”
Pines agreed and said, “I heard people who told me they couldn’t sleep at night — that the show entered their dreams. We didn’t think there would be such an effect.”
Hoter said that she thought the entertainment value of the show is the weak point. “The fourth episode was the most suspenseful and horrific, but it was also the weakest. It didn’t feel like journalism, but like fiction.”
Pines said that the creators wanted to create a show with a high production value "that is meticulous about form as well as content,” but on the other hand, he said, “We didn’t want to turn the murder of a real person into entertainment. We tried to emphasize that there is a family whose daughter was murdered — a girl whose life was taken.”
Former Haaretz daily TV critic Maya Sela told Al-Monitor that she believes this is an "excellent show" whose success stems from the fact that it meets an Israeli common denominator of "finding who's guilty. It brings the show from a philosophical debate of the truth to detective work. In the fourth episode they give the audience the new suspect, and that is what an audience needs today. This is what it wants. Zadorov will be released only when there is someone to replace him in prison. It is not enough to say that he is not guilty; you have to bring in someone else’s head instead. In Israel you need a bottom line; there is no ability to accept complexity.”
More than anything, it seems the show gained its cult because it confirms a difficult feeling for viewers: the crumbling of the structures of power. “People feel that the [public] systems aren’t functioning — there is a total lack of faith in them,” Sela said. “The show fitted exactly the public state of mind; it was received like low-hanging fruit owing to the sense that the authorities in the state aren’t here to help us.”
Hoter also believes this is the case. She said, “The show reflects an atmosphere of a lack of faith in the police and the justice system. It has confirmed a feeling that we have all had.”
Pines added, "It was important to us to present the prosecution's and the police’s version of the case in order to show that the police and prosecutors thought they had the right person. It is scarier than a conspiracy. Even without a conspiracy, anyone can find himself in a situation where he is accused of something he didn’t do, and the wheels [of the system] turn by themselves.”
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