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In this documentary the film maker interviews six former heads of the
Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence service. The interviews paint a
picture of the security situation Israel is facing and the decisions it
has made in its conflict with the Palestinians.
I was surprised to see that these former Shin Bet heads had a much more nuanced view of the conflict than I expected. Of course, they have been defending Israel and they are still Israeli citizens and they still stand behind decisions that they have made and that have cost Palestinian lives. In that sense they are "pro-Israel". On the other hand some of them openly discussed the possibility of a Palestinian state, they spoke of Palestinians in a much more humane way than many Israeli's do and they were openly critical of Israel's security policy in the past decades, both from a human and from a professional, security perspective.
One of the interviewees for example said that one people's terrorist is the other people's freedom fighter, which is not only very true, but it also shows that these people, through their history in Shin Bet have attained a different way of looking at the conflict. I found that a very surprising and interesting aspect of the movie.
I saw the film at the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam (IDFA). The maker of the movie was present at the screening and he took questions from the audience after the screening. There was one Israeli woman in the audience that condemned the maker of being anti-Israeli and painting a too positive picture of the Palestinians and right after that there was a Dutch man in the audience accusing the maker of painting a too pro-Israeli picture. It just shows the incredible sensitivity around the subject. I myself was wondering "which side is he on" when the movie started. The movie however doesn't really show the views of the film maker, but the views of the former heads of Shin Bet, which is an entirely new perspective, because most movies about this conflict are created from a certain political standpoint.
I think the maker has done a very good job at getting these six important people to participate in his documentary, because the views of these people are important and hard to ignore. It is not a movie that was inspired by right-wing or left-wing sentiments, it was an unbiased movie that shows the views of the six people that were on the forefront of this war for many years. I am very surprised to see what the reactions to this movie will be in Israel. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
You would normally bet that the chances of six former directors of the
Israel Internal Security Service known as Shabak or, in English, Shin
Bet becoming left-leaning proponents of a peaceful solution with the
Palestinians would be about as likely as Dick Cheney becoming a
political consultant for MSNBC. Yet, as depicted in Dror Moreh's
powerful and disturbing documentary The Gatekeepers, this is exactly
what happened. The film, one of five Oscar-nominated films for Best
Documentary, consists of interviews by the director with Shin Bet
spokesmen: Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Ami Ayalon, Avi
Dichter, and Yuval Diskin, interspersed with newsreel footage and CGI
graphical recreation of the seemingly endless conflict since 1967.
Moreh asks tough questions and does not let his subjects off the hook, but there is no need to. The men are forthcoming in their candid assessment of the role they played in the Shin Bet operations which included the recruitment and use of informers, the targeting and drone attacks on suspected terrorists (sound familiar?), use of brutal torture techniques, and controlling the threat of Jewish extremists, a threat that became reality when a right-wing opponent of the Oslo peace agreements shot and killed the architect of those agreements, Nobel Peace prize winner Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin.
Two horrific events are dramatized: the assassination of Palestinian terrorist Yahya Ayyash by planting an explosive device in his cell phone, and the skull bashing of two Palestinian terrorists involved in a bus hijacking after they had been subdued and captured, an action that led to the resignations by the Prime Minister and the then head of the Shin Bet. To their credit, however, the security agency called off dropping a bomb on a house filled with Hamas leaders because of the possibility of widespread collateral damage. The men were hardliners to begin with, but each, who has had to deal with the problem first-hand, has come to see the futility of an occupation that seems to lead only to an endless cycle of brutality on both sides.
They insist that continuing to talk with the Palestinians is the only option left and that anything else is a dead end street. Though they favor a two-state solution, they recognize that the opposition to dismantling the settlements might cause a civil war. If you are wondering how the six could have reached the same conclusions, Ami Ayalon tells us that "The six of us reached our opinions from different personal backgrounds and different political outlooks, but we've all reached the same conclusion. Many Israelis and American Jews want to deny it, but this is our professional opinion. We're at the edge of an abyss, and if Israeli-Palestinian peace doesn't progress, it's the end of Zionism." Though these men are patriots who believed they were doing the right thing for their country and still believe that a great number of Jewish lives were saved by their actions, they also acknowledge their struggle with the moral dimensions of the job, the thin line between taking a life and saving a life. Shalom's comments are telling, "We have become cruel to ourselves but mainly to the occupation," he says. "We paid a horrible price for our military successes. We are isolated completely from our neighbors, we cannot go anywhere. We are a thorn in the side of the region." According to Ayalon, "The tragedy of Israel's public security debate is that we don't realize that we face a frustrating situation, in which "we win every battle, but we lose the war." The Gatekeepers shows a side of the Israel-Palestinian conflict that we have not seen before and, considering the ultra-secret nature of the counter-terrorist organization, it is remarkable that Moreh was even able to conduct the interviews. Yet the impact of the film has yet to make much of a difference. In his speech prepared for delivery at the Oscars in event the film won the award for Best Documentary, Moreh said, "We pray that it (the film) will echo in the corridors of power in Washington, Berlin, Paris, London, and especially in Jerusalem and Ramallah." To this date, the only echo heard is the sound of doors being closed.
Like it or not--and some will despise it--"The Gatekeepers" is MUST SEE for anyone concerned about Israel's future. While it is true, as one reviewer has pointed out, that excerpts from the interviews with six former heads of Shin Bet, Israel's spy agency, have been assembled and, therefore, shaped by the director, what emerges is nevertheless astounding. To be sure there are significant differences of opinion on some issues -- like the efficacy of targeted assassinations, for example--and those differences have been obscured in some reviews of this documentary. But what unites the six is a good deal more significant than what divides them. They all regard the occupation as a disaster. They are all pessimistic about the future. They have contempt for most of Israel's politicians, who, they say, are consumed by tactical considerations but have no strategy. To a man, they want peace and see it slipping away. To a man they blame settlers and extremist rabbis, together with the politicians who have enabled them. (Only Yitzhak Rabin is admired by any of the six.) Yes, it's depressing. But reality is often depressing, and this is a necessary dose of reality from men who have spent their lifetimes in Israel's service.
The movie is a powerful illustration of Golda Meir's comment, "We can
forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for
forcing us to kill their children." I kept wondering if Arab leaders
experience any of the same moral struggle when they direct the killing
of innocent men, women and children that these Israelis have. These men
opened up and showed us their struggle. It would be sad if we only see
the moral conflict on one side. Killing is never easy or right. The
responsibility to protect is a heavy one.
The documentary is clear and easy to understand. The supporting film clips are well selected and the editing is excellent. Don't expect to leave feeling good, no matter what your political point of view.
This film makes a big assumption that its audience has at least a
practical knowledge of the history of the Israel/Palestinian conflict.
There's almost no context offered other than a brief recap of the 6
Days War in 1967 when Israeli forces under the leadership of the
charismatic Moshe Dayan invaded and conquered Palestinian controlled
lands on two fronts, including Syrian, Lebanese and Jordanian lands. To
the south on the border with Egypt is the Gaza Strip and to the east is
the West Bank encompassing the lands extending to the Jordan River and
includes the ancient city of Jerusalem. These ostensibly autonomous
regions were officially under Palestinian rule but nearly every aspect
of daily life was controlled, monitored and regulated by Israeli
agencies and forces. Never mentioned are the contentious circumstances
of Israel's establishment as an actual nation following World War II,
and thus a key aspect of the conflict is conspicuously absent,
presumably because it would require at least 2 or 3 hours just to
review this subject, even superficially. Needless to say, it's a
complex and convoluted history, and prior biases and prejudices are
inevitable, and the film is certainly not innocent of this
transgression, but this in no way diminishes the impact and resonance
of the film's superbly executed theatrics.
Yes, the film relies extensively on the old documentary trope of the well lit talking head, but The Gatekeepers triumphs in its masterful incorporation of actual Israeli military footage of aerial and ground attacks, and even more so by the photographs which through remarkable computer enhancement are rendered sculptural. The way these black & white still photos are made to spring to 3 dimensional life is a sublimely potent metaphor for the ability of artful storytelling to reanimate presumably long dead history. The words of the various former leaders of the Shin Bet carry an undeniable gravitas and echo in the mind and soul as we are visually guided on a tour of their previously little known realm. By focusing on the subtle variations and contradictions of each speaker's version of events and policies and tactics we are made acutely aware of the generations old conflict's profound effect upon the psyches of everyone involved. The most confident and stoic of the former leaders is possessed of a deep sense of tragedy. Avraham Shalom - who headed Shin Bet from 1981 to 1986 during the time of an incident where two Palestinian prisoners were ordered killed while being held in captivity - casually denies his culpability but it's apparent that the incident has inflicted deep wounds which even today are still very tender.
The mind bending paradoxes of the seemingly intractable conflict have left their mark on all these competent, eloquent and even brave men, and some are willing to admit that perhaps they have behaved immorally and even criminally while also acknowledging the irony of their cruel treatment of Palestinians as inexcusable behavior for a people as historically mistreated as the Jews. It's a desperately poignant moment when the individual men all express their doubts and even contempt for the political leaders who so brazenly exploit the horrific conflict for their own ends. These six men who were charged with the gruesome task of eliminating threats to Israel's security are oddly some of the most compelling critics of their nation's treatment of the Palestinians.
I saw this film the first weekend it is showing to limited release in
LA. The theater was packed. The directer was there for Q and A
afterwords which helped get feel of how unlikely it would have seemed
to get 6 former Shin Bet chiefs to all agree to speak openly in Public.
ShinBet is like THEFBI and CIA together. Each in their own way showed
their acceptance that guns and drones don't really get peace. Israel
keeps winning battles but not the wars You know it was good film if
liberals think it was too accepting of Israeli violence against
Palistinians. And hawks think it was too critical of Israel. A friend
of mine walked out silent. Politics aside if that is possible it was a
talking heads film with lots intersperst videos
All said and done it was a powerful challenge to Israeli and American faith in violence to solve polotical conflicts.
Israelis abide to very few myths. In a young country that is a melting
pot of people coming from almost one hundred different countries, where
a majority of the population is either born some other place or belong
to the second generation of children of immigrant parents, what unites
even more than the shared traditions (respected in various manners and
to very different levels of obedience) or the common history which is
for many yet to be learned (if not to be written) are above all the
permanent external menaces perceived in many moments, rightly or
wrongly, as existential dangers. In such moments the trust of the
nation is not that much focused on politicians but on the people who
defend the country, some with the arms in hands, other in wars that are
more secret than visible. The heads of the military and the heads of
the security services the legendary spy agency Mossad and the
internal Security Service 'Shin-Beth' as it is called in this film are
living legends for most of the Israelis. Until recently some of them
were known only by their initials as long as they lived and were
active. Their opinions count, and when they converge, as seems up to a
certain extent to be the case in this film, people listen. The first
major achievement of director Dror Moreh and the team that made this
film is to have brought together six of The Gatekeepers, the former
heads of the internal security service of Israel and make them talk
about the history of the service, the war on terrorism, the relations
with the Palestinian neighbors of Israel, the situation of Israel
today, and the perspective ahead. The convergent views of these men
should worry all Israelis who have seen or will see the film.
There is a lot of good and interesting information that is presented in this film, but of course, not all history and the whole complexity of the conflict could have been brought on screen in a documentary that lasts about 90 minutes. Lacking facts will certainly expose the film to critics from all directions, but these critics would be to some extent unfair. In fact for the Israeli audiences there is nothing completely new here, investigative reporting in the Israeli press, TV documentary movies, and books written by political experts and historians have exposed sometimes in much more details different aspects of the stories presented in this film. What is new and different is the candid manner the makers of the movie succeed to make the six different personalities who successively lead the service talk about the events that took place in the last 45 years, their meaning, their implications. Attentive spectators who also know the differences between the views and positions of the six leaders will perceive also the differences between their opinions and their approaches into presenting the facts, but overall a fascinating perspective is built by getting together their testimonies and the history of the area in the period between the Six Days War and today, the initial euphoria, the lost opportunities, the achievements and the mistakes in the fight against terror, the moral dilemmas and the price of the occupation, the human risks and morality of lack of morality of some of the methods all come together in a perspective which is amplified by the coherent message delivered by each one of the speakers. If you search for information in this film you will not get the whole picture, and I am quite sure that the film will be much better understood from this point of view by Israelis than by audiences abroad. If you look for the historic trends and for indications about things to come, it's mandatory viewing, and it does not look like good news, but rather like a very strong warning signal from people who were in the middle of the policy making and security actions of Israel.
I believe that this film should be seen by as many people as possible and debated in Israel. Best would be probably a screening on prime time TV, but I am not optimistic about this happening soon as prime time TV in Israel seems to be almost fully booked by (i)reality shows. At least, by now The Gatekeepers is distributed commercially and the audiences seem to be interested. However, the more echoes may come from abroad, especially as the film is a candidate for the Oscar in the documentary category, certainly if it also wins the award. The editing of the film is smart, the combination between historical footage and computerized effects puts even more life into the illustrations, and the permanent images of the big screens as a symbol of the technology used to permanently supervise the territories is haunting. I have seen however much more sophisticated technical means put at work in documentaries. 'The Gatekeepers' is eventually a talking heads movie and is important because of the stories that the talking heads tell and the message that they deliver.
"These are philosophical questions, not practical ones," Yaakov Peri
If the Arab-Israeli conflict interests you, then take a close look at The Gatekeepers, a first-rate documentary about Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency primarily responsible for Israel's complicated relationship with Palestine, for both good and bad.
Director Dror Moreh has the six former heads of the agency speak as candidly as is possible for men were cautious in the extreme about safety and negotiation, causing death, destruction, and reconstruction to people who just can't seem to settle their differences.
As a one-time head avers in the quote above, for the leaders of the agency, founded in 1949 immediately after Israel declared its independence, the decisions of Shin Bet most often depended on the tactic rather than the strategy. Such a mode led to the Bus 300 affair in 1984 with Israeli operatives beating two Arab bus hijackers to death upon orders from Avaraham Shalom, head of the agency at that time. The decision, according to him, was a matter of not having to deal with the terrorists in arrest. And you thought drones were cold.
Ruthless and efficient as Shin Bet is, it couldn't stop Israeli Prime Minister Yitzah Rabin's assassination in 1995, even when it knew the identity of the assassin beforehand. Yet the documentary's thrust, ruled as it is by seasoned intelligence officers who lack self-recrimination, is that the agency did what it had to do and was on the whole successful protecting Israel.
As the film moves toward its end and the elderly leaders ruminate, one states he has moved toward the left in his old age, suggesting that decisions to accept collateral damage to civilians were necessary but regrettable. As I watch in fascination, I could only think how nice to be able to live with oneself and shift on the political spectrum with barely a scratch.
The Gatekeepers, deservedly nominated for a 2012 Oscar, does what a good doc should dolets the subjects talk for themselves and thereby cleanly exalt and exonerate themselves without directorial intrusion (except in the editing room, of course).
Closer to the truth of the occupation's collateral damage, Shalom evaluates himself and his fellow leaders: "We have become cruel to ourselves but mainly to the occupation."
Although this film deals with moral conflicts of heads of the Shin Bet
it appears to lack the perspective of why we're in this situation in
which these people have the power to take a man's life and cause
collateral damage or not, no matter that the man in question is
considered an enemy.
During the screening of this film my feeling was that this movie is bad for Israel's PR on one hand because it shows a very unpleasant reality to innocent Palestinians directly inflicted by Israel, but on the other hand it also shows that Israel is not this murderous entity some say it is. I think it'd be better if a bit more emphasis on why this conflict exists and why each side does what it does, though that might make it a bit more political.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not as simple as some people think and I think it's important for Israelis to watch this film as well as for people who claim Israel is immoral and simply wants to kill Palestinians.
I was kind of surprised by the candid nature of The Gatekeepers. I was
expecting it to be tainted with political correctness or even overt
propaganda, given its sensitive subject matter. But instead, all the
former heads of Shin Bet seemed genuine to me - admitting to as many
embarrassing exploits as heroic ones.
I am sure there will be people on the opposite side of the fence that will still see it as propaganda. And perhaps that is understandable given how much blood has been shed in that region of the world and just how contentious the issues are. But I for one found the perspectives honest, chilling and with a glimmer of hope that things can be better in the future.
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