Ziva David’s Entire NCIS Backstory Explained
Ever since she was introduced in season three of NCIS as a Mossad agent with k*****r instincts, Ziva David has been a crucial part of the team.
Though Leroy Jethro Gibbs and other NCIS agents are initially hesitant to trust Ziva, she eventually proves her loyalty and becomes a beloved member of the team. Among audiences, Ziva quickly became a fan favorite, due to her physical prowess, compelling storylines, and inability to remember American idioms. Ziva’s personal life often bleeds into her professional one, whether it be her tenuous relationship with her family or her will-they-won’t-they romance with coworker Anthony DiNozzo, which lasts more than a decade. She’s incredibly good at what she does, but she’s also only human — and that’s why fans, and her colleagues, love her.
Ziva’s upbringing in Israel is also explored over the course of her time as an NCIS mainstay, including the ways in which growing up in the thorny center of the Israel-Palestine conflict has shaped her worldview. Unlike many other characters who first see violence as a part of their work, Ziva has been acquainted with war and loss from a very young age. Indeed, she’s been affected by violence since long before she signed up to be a Mossad agent, let alone joined NCIS. Altogether, Ziva David has the one of the most elaborate and thoroughly fleshed-out backstories of any character in NCIS. We’re here to break it down, from beginning to end.
She was born and raised in Israel
Ziva was born in Be’er Sheva, a city in the Negev desert in southern Israel. Her parents are Rivka and Eli David, and she has two siblings: A younger sister named Tali, and a half-brother named Ari Haswari. Ari is a major adversary of the NCIS team in season two, and Ziva is actually introduced as his Mossad control officer before it’s revealed that they are half-siblings.
Ziva’s life as a Jewish Israeli is a huge milestone for representation in network television. Ziva’s religion and ethnicity influence her character without completely smothering her in stereotypes, a delicate balance critics have praised. This can be seen in smaller details, like the Star of David necklace she wears throughout the show, her observance of Shabbat, and her taste for falafel, but also in larger story arcs involving her relationship with her father, a Mossad agent who later becomes the director of the Israeli intelligence agency.
The actress who portrays Ziva, Cote de Pablo, is neither Israeli nor Jewish, but hails from Chile and was raised Catholic. She worked with a Hebrew teacher to learn her Hebrew lines, and was later invited by the Israeli department of tourism to visit her character’s homeland. Her travels there deeply moved her, and have informed her portrayal of the character ever since. “It was more of a trip for Ziva than for Cote,” the actress remarked. “It absolutely informed my insights into her soul.”
Ziva’s non-traditional upbringing
Ziva’s father’s involvement in Mossad shaped much of Ziva’s childhood. In the season three episode “Ravenous,” Ziva mentions doing ballet as a child, noting that her father never came to any of her performances. Her father did spend some time with her, however, albeit entirely on his own terms: He trained her and her siblings in espionage and combat from a very young age. One instance of Ziva’s survival training involved Eli blindfolding his two daughters and bringing them into a forest, then telling them to find their way out alone. As a result of Eli’s training, Ziva is an expert combatant. Though her relationship with her father is complex, she is grateful for the worldview he imposed upon her. Eli made it clear to her that one “can never truly know a person or their secrets,” a lesson she has taken to heart.
All of this makes it easy to see why Ziva is regarded as a bit of a tomboy in adulthood. When her character was first introduced in 2005, there weren’t many shows that depicted women like Ziva: Smart, competent law enforcement agents who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. In fact, in 2011, New York Times critic Mike Hale wrote that Cote de Pablo’s portrayal of Ziva is part of a “growing group of female action heroes who are infiltrating cop shows, spy shows, science-fiction shows and other genres where men once did the lion’s share of the enforcing.”
Her parents’ rocky relationship