The mere fact that all six subjects in Israeli documentarian Dror Morehs 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 theyve 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 theyre 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 Israels 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 Morehs movie is little more than propaganda. It truly isnt. As the film progresses and we learn about the problems and regrets these men face, we also start to see that they dont necessarily agree with the tasks theyve been given, or with the decisions their countrys leaders have made. Its 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 whats more surprising is that none of these guys appears to actually be a hardliner. Theyre dedicated to Israel, sure, but that doesnt mean theyre 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 Bets 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, lets 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, its primarily a talking-head movie, but Morehs questions arent all softballs, and he makes these men accountable for some of their statements. All of them are willing to own up to what theyve 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. Its 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 its 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.