Mark Metcalf

“Gatekeepers” exposes Israel’s unseen security force

Six former directors of the Shin Bet intelligence service are interviewed in a documentary by Dror Moreh, opening this weekend at the Downer Theatre.

By - Mar 15th, 2013 04:00 am
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The six former security chiefs of Israel open up about about their work in “The Gatekeepers,” a new film by Dror Moreh. Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

The gatekeepers in Dror Moreh’s documentary of the same name are the Shin Bet, one arm of the Israeli intelligence service. The Hebrew motto of the Shin Bet translates to “the unseen shield.” The Gatekeepers reveals that which has been hidden; six men, all the head of Shin Bet at various times, talk candidly for the camera about the way they worked, the ethos that drove them, the mistakes they feel they made and the horribly difficult situations that they navigated.

They also discuss the now: where Israel currently stands in relation to the Palestinians and to the world. Out of this comes a sense of the future and it is frightening. Perhaps that is why these warriors have put down the shield. Because the past has not worked.

In what I have always perceived to be the great Jewish tradition of pragmatism and the ongoing struggle to bring a moral discussion to a universe that insists on behaving erratically – to say nothing of dangerously, from Israel’s point of view – these six men painfully and carefully discuss their successes and their failures. Strictly as a “movie,” it is often too talky to hold the audience, unless one is invested emotionally in Israel and its struggle for survival. But I believe that we all now live in the whole world and therefore we must make the effort to be invested: to think, to talk, to witness, to care, and to continue the conversation.

Moreh begins by using newsreel footage to inform us of the history of Israel as it has confronted the Palestinian struggle for statehood since the Six Day War in 1967. He ends with the admission by ’80s Shin Bet leader Avraham Shalom that, “We have become cruel to ourselves, but mainly to the occupation.” More telling is a comment by Ami Ayalon, who led Shin Bet in the late ’90s, that Israel is in a situation where “…we win every battle, but we lose the war.”

Somewhat surprising is that all six men agree a two-state solution is inevitable and that it can only be accomplished by continuing to talk. To lay down arms and talk. War begets war. Violence breeds violence. These six men exercised every sort of violent solution in fighting the terrorism that attacked them. After five decades they each individually believe that no solution has been viable, that all of us are just that much closer to the edge of the abyss.

The Gatekeepers opens Friday, March 15, exclusively at the Downer Theatre.

Categories: Arts & Culture, Movies

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