Feb. 27 2013 02:43 PM

Dror Moreh's Oscar-nominated documentary gets extraordinary access into Israeli intelligence

Ami Ayalon (right) led Shin Bet after the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

The mere fact that all six subjects in Israeli documentarian Dror Moreh's new film, The Gatekeepers, agreed to sit down and talk is pretty astounding in and of itself. These men have been deep in the intelligence business for decades, and they've made decisions that have absolutely, unequivocally, caused the death of other human beings. Watching what they have to say for themselves is fascinating and, perhaps more importantly, pleasantly surprising.

If a documentary can be said to star anyone, then The Gatekeepers stars six former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli Internal Security Agency, which works alongside Military Intelligence and the Mossad. Their methods are shrouded in secrecy, but they're pretty much responsible for internal security and keeping an eye on what goes on in the occupied territories. Theirs is a massive intelligence operation, so what you get here initially is a history lesson—as seen through the eyes of these men—of Israel's actions since the Six-Day War of 1967, which ended with Israel in charge of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, among other places, and more than a million very unhappy and disenfranchised Palestinians.

That said, you might be tempted to think Moreh's movie is little more than propaganda. It truly isn't. As the film progresses and we learn about the problems and regrets these men face, we also start to see that they don't necessarily agree with the tasks they've been given, or with the decisions their country's leaders have made. It's startling to see a man justify the illegal murder of an arrested terrorist in one breath, but call for tolerance and dialogue in another.

But what's more surprising is that none of these guys appears to actually be a hardliner. They're dedicated to Israel, sure, but that doesn't mean they're blind to the consequences of their decisions. Rather, they believe use of force in the occupied territories is the wrong way to go, for the most part, and that Shin Bet's own failure to prevent the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 was the greatest of all blows to any potential peace process.

You might be uninterested in the dealings of Israel and what goes on in that part of the world, but The Gatekeepers is tremendously interesting, if only because people like these six men, no matter what country they call home, almost never sit down in front of a camera. And, let's face it, the ongoing conflict in that region has been one of the most divisive situations on the planet for the last half-century, a catalyst for so much violence inside and outside the Middle East with, sadly, no end in sight.

Sure, it's primarily a talking-head movie, but Moreh's questions aren't all softballs, and he makes these men accountable for some of their statements. All of them are willing to own up to what they've done, often in measured, considered ways. And despite the fact that some of these guys are personally responsible for ordering targeted assassinations, their collective message is one of dialogue and peace. It's rare to run into people who consider themselves evil when evil is necessary but who also believe that in order to have peace, someone must do the things that need to be done.

What The Gatekeepers seems to be saying, however, is that it's time to reexamine what needs to be done, and to see if we can, once again, pull out the roadmap for peace—because, these days, no one on either side seems to want to ask for directions. 

Write to anders@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com. You can follow Anders on Twitter at @anderswright.


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