Friday, March 29, 2013
Review: The Gatekeepers
In The Gatekeepers, six former heads of Shin Bet, Israel’s security agency, go on camera for the first time and talk about their conflicted feelings toward their enemies, the Palestinians. The mere subject of the documentary (interviews with former directors of Israeli intelligence) is enough to “sell” this film, but it’s the revelations found within that truly make it worth watching.
The Gatekeepers attempts to track the history of Israel from the Six-Day War in 1967, almost to the present day, and the conflicts that the nation has felt during that time.
The six men at the center of the film are not afraid to speak frankly about assassinations and torture. You don’t become the head of Shin Bet by being afraid to pull a trigger. Avraham Shalom, the oldest of the interview subjects, left his position over an incident in which a terrorist was murdered while his hands were tied. Another recalls his greatest success as killing a suspected Palestinian terrorist with a “phone bomb”. Each of the six protagonists speaks on the concept of having to decide if the potential loss of innocent lives is worth “taking out” a suspected threat.
Director Dror Moreh plays his hand a little too soon, seemingly only interested in making this film so he would have the ability to ask these men about the ethics involved in dealing with terrorists. After questioning the elderly Shalom multiple times about the morality in killing these murderers, the old gentleman finally says that there is no morality where terrorism involved. “Find morals in terrorists first.”
Yet the film isn’t one-sided at all. At different points during the film, each of the men condemns the tactics that have been used during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most of them point toward the politicians they worked under as the true heads of Shin Bet during their times running the unit. Also, each of the men describes how the Palestinians reacted to the deaths happening around them; the phone-bomb assassination in particular seemed to stir a hornet’s nest; relations went from low-level hostility to violent retaliation.
Moreh’s documentary is fascinating, when the director isn’t openly pointing the subjects of it in the direction he wants to take them. Avi Dichter, the second-most-recent director interviewed, comes the closest to comparing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with Germany’s treatment of Jews in the days leading up to World War II. Something tells me that segment is Moreh’s favorite in the film.