Advance billing makes it known ahead of time that The Gatekeepers is a stark critique of Israeli policy from within. The film features unprecedented interviews with six former bosses of Shin Bet, Israel’s super-secret domestic intelligence agency.
Experiencing The Gatekeepers, however, exceeds all expectations. This is a bold film that systematically and coldly analyzes decades of Israeli security policy in dealing with Palestinians and the enemies that surround Israel.
The Shin Bet bosses use steely, unsentimental logic: whatever the justifications of the past and the present—Israeli policy toward the Palestinians is a failure.
They may have their hard-line critics in Israel and the United States, but these particular men are hard to dispute. They are deeply committed to Israel, hardened veterans of battle, and unassailable in their logic.
Together, the men – Ami Ayalon, Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Avi Dichter, and Yuval Diskin– represent three decades of successes and failures in the Israeli war on terrorism. All have realized that even their successes have been a failure.
In the end we are left with deep questions about morality, the Israeli psyche and extremism on all sides.
The Shin Bet bosses by no means excuse Palestinian terror – although one of the former leaders switches from Hebrew to English to characterize the Palestinian view of Israeli security forces with the old saying: One Man’s Terrorist Is Another Man’s Freedom Fighter.
Success, in any case, is a strange commodity. As one of the men realized after a chance conversation during peace talks with a Palestinian psychiatrist: for the Palestinians, “victory is to see you suffer.”
They realize that there has been and can be no end to the morass of the Middle East under current circumstances. Israeli actions, the Shin Bet leaders say, amount to “no strategy, all tactics.”
The Gatekeepers portrays the horrors exacted by extremism on both sides. While there is a hopelessness in the generations of unending cycles of death, I still found myself uplifted by the fact that the movie exists at all. These men face forward and speak truths and the filmmaker, Dror Moreh, has the guts to tell the story.
The way out is spoken clearly by the oldest and perhaps the toughest of them all – Avraham Shalom, at 86, a veteran of the Palmach underground fighters that battled and killed British soldiers in the Israeli war for independence after World War II. His answer is a call for negotiations:
“Talk to everyone, even if they answer rudely. So that includes even Ahmadinejad, [Islamic Jihad, Hamas], whoever. I’m always for it. In the State of Israel, it’s too great a luxury not to speak with our enemies…Even if [the] response is insolent, I’m in favor of continuing. There is no alternative. It’s in the nature of the professional intelligence man to talk to everyone. That’s how you get to the bottom of things. I find out that he doesn’t eat glass and he sees that I don’t drink oil.”
Israeli is the democracy that has allowed the filmmaker Moreh to make this film, even though the Israeli government is outraged and calls on Israeli filmmakers to practice self-censorship.
(By the way, as for the Oscars, I loved the film, Searching for Sugar Man, which won for best documentary against The Gatekeepers and another Israel political film, 5 Broken Cameras. Awards are awards but The Gatekeepers is unsurpassable in its strength and merits.)
Are there enough Israelis to listen and respond to the pragmatic reality that brought The Gatekeepers out of the shadows to the stage? I don’t know.