The Gatekeepers (2012)

Of the several movies I have been watching in the last two weeks the one which most impressed me was the 2012 documentary “The Gatekeepers” made by the Israeli cinematographer Dror Moreh.

This documentary tells the story of Israel‘s internal security service Shin Bet from the perspective of six former heads of this organization (called “The Gatekeepers“).

The film combines in-depth interviews with archival footage and computer animation to recount the role these six former heads of the Shin Bet and this internal security service played in Israel’s security from the Six-Day War to the present.

The film was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 85th Academy Awards.

Moreh explained in interviews that he was inspired to make the film after watching Errol Morris’s Academy Award-winning documentary The Fog of War. Having just completed a film about former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Moreh came to realize the decisive role that the Shin Bet had played behind the scenes in Israel for the past forty years.

The problem, according to Moreh, was getting the so called “Gatekeepers” (or former heads of the Shin Bet) to agree to appear on camera and discuss their work and opinions. Given the secretive nature of the organization, none of these heads of the Shin Bet had ever done this before, and many of the topics Moreh hoped to discuss with those former heads of the Shin Bet were either classified or highly sensitive.

Despite this initial difficulty, Moreh contacted one of the “Gatekeepers”, Ami Ayalon, who had since been elected to the Knesset for the Labor Party and was serving as a Minister without Portfolio in the Security Cabinet. Much to his surprise, Ayalon not only agreed to participate, he also helped Moreh contact the other surviving former heads of the Shin Bet: Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, and Avi Dichter. The sixth participant in the film, Yuval Diskin (in charge from 2005 to 2011), was still serving as head of the Shin Bet at the time the documentary was made.

Though all the men agreed to participate, some were reluctant initially to discuss various incidents associated with their careers.

Avraham Shalom, for instance, did not want to discuss his role in the hijacking of the 300 bus and summary execution of two of the terrorists, though the ensuing scandal ultimately led to his resignation. Over time, however, and with careful prodding, he agreed to discuss even that, and it now features as one of the film’s segments.

The film consists of seven segments:

  • No Strategy, Just Tactics – covering the emerging role of the Shin Bet from the Six-Day War and the occupation of the Palestinian territories
  • Forget About Morality – about the Bus 300 affair
  • One Man’s Terrorist Is Another Man’s Freedom Fighter – about the peace process following the Oslo Accords
  • Our Own Flesh and Blood – about Jewish terrorism, including the Jewish Underground and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin
  • Victory Is to See You Suffer – about negotiations with the Palestinians during the Second Intifada
  • Collateral Damage – about the assassination of Yahya Ayyash and other prominent Hamas militants
  • The Old Man at the End of the Corridor – consisting of reflections on the activities of the Shin Bet and their ethical and strategic impact on the State of Israel

Though the film follows a loose chronological order, each of these segments also delves into topics such as the controversy surrounding collateral damage, the efficacy of torture, and the morality of targeted assassination.

The events described in the film are illustrated with archival footage and computer-generated imagery that brings historic photographs to life. An example of this is the computer-generated reenactment of the 300 bus incident, based on photographs and eyewitness accounts. The film’s computer animations were created by the French company Mac Guff.

Three years in production, the film was first released at the Jerusalem Film Festival in the presence of the “Gatekeepers(or six former heads Shin Bet) who are interviewed in this documentary.

In North America, the movie was released on 31 August 2012 by Sony Picture Classics at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado in the presence of Errol Morris and a week later (6 September 2012) at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The movie also screened at the New York Film Festival. Its first screening in Europe took place at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam. In addition to a one-week release to make it eligible for the Academy Awards, wider theatrical release of this movie began in North America on February 1.

When it comes to my evaluation of this movie, the two things about this documentary that really stroke me were the following: On one side the movie gives a very interesting and detailed insight into the work of Israel´s internal security service Shin Bet in the last over forty years since the Six-Day War (1967) to the present.

Those agents are without doubt tough, clear-minded and hard-boiled professionals and the work they are doing has been obviously in many cases very effective.

But on the other side it also stroke me that those ex-leaders of Israel´s internal security service are perfectly aware of the fact that the Israeli–Palestinian conflict can´t be solved through the work and activities of the Shin Bet.

These “Gatekeepers” know that both sides in this Israeli–Palestinian conflict are trapped since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin (1995) in an endless cycle of violence. And those ex-leaders of Israel´s internal security service also know that this cycle of violence can only be broken if the political leaders of the Palestinian people and of the State of Israel sit down and talk together and try to solve the conflict negotiating a peace.

As one of these “Gatekeepers” says in this movie: In this Israeli–Palestinian conflict “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. And this aphorism is in some way valid for both sides in this conflict.

When the Palestinian terrorists commit one of their horrible terrorist acts in Israel like a suicide bomber attack against a bus the Shin Bet will most probably answer with one of their targeted assasinations of one or several prominent radical Palestinian leaders usually living in the Gaza Strip or the Westbank (which often includes also some involuntary collateral damage) or with some other military operations against the radical Palestinian leaders and the Palestinian terrorists. And all this includes usually also a often massive collateral damage which can´t be avoided in the end for technical reasons. 

There is no such thing as a “clean war and these “Gatekeepers” (or ex-leaders of Israel´s internal security service Shin Bet) who are inteviewed in this documentary admit this in an open and straight manner. They also admit that there is no morality involved in these kind of operations like the targeted assasinations of prominent radical Palestinian leaders which often include a massive collateral damage.

So this cycle of violence can´t be broken or ended by the activities of the Shin Bet. The Shin Bet tries to protect the citizens of Israel and also tries to punish the radical Palestinian leaders and the Palestinian terrorists that work for them in cases where those leaders and those terrorists are supposed to be responsible for murderous attacks on the citizens of Israel (like for example the mentioned suicide bomber attacks against buses).

And that´s why those hard-boiled and experienced ex-leaders of the Shin Bet advocate a political solution of the.Israeli–Palestinian conflict which includes of course as a first step that the political leaders of both sides are willing to sit down and talk together and try to solve the conflict negotiating a peace.

These “Gatekeepers” (or ex-leaders of Israel´s internal security service Shin Bet) are also aware of the fact that since the times of the Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin (whose second term in office began in 1992 and who was assasinated in 1995 by Yigal Amir, a radical right-wing Orthodox Jew ) there haven´t been any serious attempts from both sides in this Israeli–Palestinian conflict to solve this conflict on a political level, negotiating a possible peace.

Rabin played a leading role in the signing of the Oslo Accords, which created the Palestinian National Authority and granted it partial control over parts of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

After the historical handshake with Yasser Arafat, Rabin said, on behalf of the Israeli people: “We who have fought against you, the Palestinians, we say to you today, in a loud and a clear voice, enough of blood and tears … enough!” During this term of office, Rabin also oversaw the signing of the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace in 1994.

Joe Morgenstern, film critic for the Wall Street Journal, called the movie “The Gatekeepers” in his article “Welcome Fruits of a Late Harvest” published on December, 27, 2012 “one of the 10 best films of 2012.

This documentary “The Gatekeepers“, notes Morgenstern, “brings together all the surviving directors of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency. What these tough and tough-minded men have to say about Israeli politicians, and the nation’s current stance vis à vis its enemies, is stunning and edifying in equal measure“.

I really agree with Joe Morgenstern with regard to his evaluation of Dror Moreh´s documentary and also with regard to his evaluation of those clearminded and harboiled ex-leaders of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency.

In the end those tough and well-trained men of the Shin Bet are much more realistic and sincere about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and his sinister implications than the Israeli politicians and the radical Palestinian leaders who are accepting and often even promoting a war that can neither be won by the Israeli internal security service Shin Bet nor by the Palestinian terrorists who commit those cruel and murderous attacks on the Israelis.

I strongly recommend my readers to watch this brilliant and stunning documentary “The Gatekeepers“. You can buy this documentary at A German Version of this documentary can currently be found on Vimeo. And of course some clips and trailers of this movie can be found on YouTube and Dailymotion.

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