This was one of the Academy Award nominees in 2012 for Best Documentary, so it comes with good pedigree. Director Dror Moreh managed to get interviews for the first time with every surviving head of Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency. Using their interviews with some stock footage and news reels, Moreh constructs a very compelling story.
Yaval Diskin (2005-11), Avraham Shalom (1980-86), Avi Dichter (2000-05), Yaacov Peri (1988-94), Carmi Gillon (194-96), and Ami Avalon (1996-2000) were the men at the head of Shin Bet and were in charge of Israel’s fight against terrorism. The terrorism they are afraid of comes primarily from the Palestinian population. These men had their fingers in every decision made in that regard. For the first time ever they agree to, on film, discuss the decisions made and how they feel about them now. Some they see as successes while others, interesting enough, as failures.
Shin Bet was started as of the Six Day War in 1967 and has been the most important organization in Israel’s intelligence arsenal since then. The intelligence organization replaced Mossad. It deals primarily with the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza. After the Six Day War Israel came to be in “charge” of 1 million Palestinians. The organization interrogated tens to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in an effort to gather intelligence.
In 1982 the Lebanon War began and Shin Bet began to recruit operatives there. In short order they controlled Lebanon. Shin Bet saw Israel as being surrounded on all sides by Arab enemies.
Shin Bet also had the task of stopping its own people from committing terrorist attacks against the Palestinians. For example, they stopped a group of Jews who planned to put a bomb on a Palestinian bus and several members of the Jewish underground were arrested after a plot was discovered to blow up the dome of The Rock, a mosque.
They had collected a huge wanted list. The man named as the number one terrorist enemy of Israel was Yasser Arafat. Hamas began to take the lead when it came to suicide attacks in Israel. Even after the Oslo Accords suicide attacks continued and the Israeli population began to lash out at their own Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The more he spoke of peace the more he was hated by his own people. Rabin was finally killed by a member of the Right. Now the entire peace process was in jeopardy.
The assassination of Rabin also put Shin Bet in jeopardy. They were seen to have failed. Israel’s security arm did not have the people’s confidence any more. Seeing the writing on the wall, Shin Bet, as an organization, began a shift in strategy. They began to use brains rather than force.
Avraham Shalom was a feared man as he was tough. Avraham comes right out and says over the course of his interview that he is in favour of a Palestinian free state, but once terrorist acts began the idea of this was forgotten. Flat out he states that there is no morality in the fight against terrorism.
If you are looking for a documentary that explains why Israel and Palestine are in the position they are in you are going to have to look elsewhere. It is definitely not blindly pro-Israel either. The Gatekeepers does show the horror of how the Israelis and in particular Shin Bet treated many innocent Palestinians. We do get to see how complicated this issue is. Dror Moreh has made a good film that shows how important and powerful these six men were and how it is hard to ignore that they have all changed their minds about how to deal with the complex issue.
Bottom line is that each of these men came into this job as hard liners and now each seems to advocate a more peace-making attitude towards the Palestinians and some even go as far as seeing a two-state solution as the only viable one.
-Q+A With Director Dror Moreh
-Previews of West of Memphis, The Company You Keep, At Any Price, Inside Job, Waltz With Bashir, The Fog of War