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The Gatekeepers: 'If this film does not lead to change, there is no hope for Israel'

NEW YORK — “If this film does not lead to change, there is no hope for Israel,” said Israeli director Dror Moreh. He was referring to his new documentary The Gatekeepers, which has been nominated for an Academy Award. The title of the film refers to the six directors of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, who, in a series of extraordinary interviews with the director, speak about their work in detail for the first time.

Perhaps partly in response to Moreh’s personal charisma and partly out of what seems to be deep concern born of real patriotism, these men are strikingly candid and thoughtful. Avraham Shalom, head of the Shin Bet under Menachem Begin, speaks for the first time about the 1984 Kav 300 affair, when terrorists who attacked an inter-city bus were photographed alive upon arrest and were then killed in custody. Carmi Gillon speaks about his personal crisis after failing to prevent the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. They speak openly about the great danger posed by Jewish terror, particularly given that the men who plotted to blow up the Dome of the Rock, for example, are part of the Israeli establishment. They describe in detail the process of establishing control over occupied territory — learning to speak fluent Palestinian Arabic and memorizing the layout of every Palestinian village and town, building by building, house by house. The suffocating sense they convey is that the Palestinians living in occupied territory have no personal freedom; they are under perpetual surveillance, no matter what they are doing.

What these men describe is the process by which Israel became after 1967 a state that is ruled by the Shin Bet, rather than governed by the prime minister’s office. And in doing so, they confirm everything the so-called loony left has been saying about the occupation and its destructive effect on Israeli society.

We are winning the battle and losing the war, they say. And more: The only way to resolve this conflict is to sit down and negotiate, and yes that includes speaking with Hamas; we have made the lives of the Palestinians miserable and unbearable; the occupation has made Israel into a Shin Bet state; we are the edge of an abyss; there is no-one thinking for the people in the prime minister’s office; the future is bleak and gray.

In response to a quote from Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibovitz about the danger to democracy and the immorality of being an occupying power, Yuval Diskin responds that he agrees with every word.

Advance reviews for the film, which goes into limited release in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, have been very strong. New York Magazine calls it “strikingly lucid,” adding: “You know the Holy Land is an unholy mess when the professional paranoiacs with a license to kill come off like peaceniks.”

These men are not really peaceniks, although Yaakov Peri does say at one point that heading the Shin Bet makes one into “a sort of leftist.” In fact they are pragmatists and they are ruthless. Their descriptions of notorious assassinations committed by the Shin Bet, even those that involved substantial “collateral damage” (dead innocent bystanders), are cold and detached. But they blink when Moreh confronts them with the consequences of those assassinations — i.e., retaliations, counter-retaliations, more dead civilians and no end in sight. They acknowledge that they have been engaged in short term tactics without any long-term goal.

Moreh, visiting New York to promote the film ahead of its release on Friday (it was released last month in Israel, to sold out screenings and strong reviews), was at the end of a long day of interviews by the time we sat down to talk. But he was energetic and passionate and spoke volubly.

“Of course I am worried!” he said. “I was worried before I made the film and I am more worried now.” If Obama doesn’t “roll up his sleeves and use his power to make change,” he said, “We are doomed.”

He acknowledges readily that he was motivated to make the film by a desire to start a conversation in Israeli society. “I’m not interested in people who look away from their reflection in a cracked, rusty mirror because they don’t like what they see,” he said. “I’m interested in the people who can look unflinchingly at their reflection, even if they don’t like it.”

Moreh is deeply troubled by the uncritical stance toward Israel adopted by the organized Jewish community in the United States. In an interview with the Huffington Post’s Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, he said that the American Jewish view “…that they have to support Israel, no matter what” is actually “damaging the state of Israel” and “damaging their own goal of protecting Israel as a safe haven for them,” because if Israel continues on its present path it will soon be a place they would not want to live in — i.e., an apartheid state.

“The Jewish American attitude toward Israel must change,” he said to me. “AIPAC can change that attitude. Not JStreet! But AIPAC can. They have to think what’s best for Israel. You have to decide what you believe in. You cannot be for Rabin and Netanyahu. Decide what you believe in!”

The Gatekeepers is a gripping, disturbing film. The production values are unusually high, with superb editing that presents a clear narrative — which is not, by the way, particularly left wing. But because the clearly heartfelt, knowledgeable opinions of these undeniably well informed men are so disturbing to those who believe in the received narratives about Israeli security policy being morally or tactically motivated and therefore justifiable, many will find this film unbearable to watch.

The Gatekeepers will go into limited release in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, February 1.

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    1. ayla

      this is an excellent review, Lisa. Thank you. I guess I can only say that it’s excellent in the way that it’s written and in its message since I haven’t yet seen the film, but I love it just the same. funny, too, about the leftwing in your final paragraph. I pray everyone sees this film, especially those most reluctant. If they don’t, and they have a stake in Israel and voice opinions, they lose credibility. I’m sure, too, that I’ll learn plenty from seeing it; things that are very hard for me to know, both about Israel and about the world today.

      Reply to Comment
    2. aristeides

      The film will not lead to change. There is no profit in it. There is no hope for Israel, the state that reacts to criticism of its settlement policies by turning its back and closing its eyes and ears.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Gil Franco

      And if the negotiations with the Palestinians including Hamas reveal, yet again, that they won’t accept anything other than a reversal of 1948 what then?

      Reply to Comment
    4. “What these men describe is the process by which Israel became after 1967 a state that is ruled by the Shin Bet, rather than governed by the prime minister’s office.” : The Israeli “unwritten constitution” has evolved a new branch with its own area of power. I usually call this the IDF, but “security apparatus” would be more exact. Each branch of this “constitution” seems to have an area of immunity from the other branches. But the overriding importance of security has expanded the apparatus’ field of immunity. This expansion seems mostly at the cost of the judiciary.

      I think Aristeides, above, likely right. There are feedback loops in this process which entail high political cost to disrupt. One needs something akin to Eisenhower’s “military industrial complex” speech–and he made that speech at the end of his tenure.

      Reply to Comment
      • Piotr Berman

        Feedback loops from political control? We have seen it last months.

        1. Israeli soldiers are “humiliated” by being forced to withdraw from a village, perhaps it happened twice.

        2. Cabinet ministers and “forth estate” demand blood, “soldiers shoot not hesitate to shoot”.

        3. Soldiers kill 5 Palestinians in West bank and some more in Gaza in “trigger happy” circumstances. Press gushes with enthusiasm.

        4. Military command renews guidelines how to operate less lethally.

        Similarly, Shin Beth is probably less enthusiastic about assassinations than the politicians, the press and the public. Professionals as a rule are less enthusiastic than amateurs, plus they they know that while they can away with murder, literally, it is a bother.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Boxthorn

      1/ So you folks at 972, you do or you don’t want Israel governed by the Prime Minister. I’m a little confused.

      2/ This documentary will only be viewed by the left wing. Because only the left wing goes to see political documentaries, because only left wingers make political documentaries.

      Reply to Comment
    6. XYZ

      There men are NOT “apolitical” security experts. All of them, like all the heads of the various branches of security in the country (police, IDF, etc) are from the MAPAI-Labor Party security Establishment. So obviously they are supporters of a left-wing position. No “right-winger” could ever be appointed to the top position in these organizations. (Boogie Ya’alon, who being from a good MAPAI family made it to the top as Chief of Staff of the IDF, but then “went bad” and joined the Likud and adopted “right-wing” positions).
      Thus, it is not surprising that they would have pessimistic, even defeatits views…this is what the prevailing view on the Left is today.

      Reply to Comment
    7. XYZ

      I haven’t seen the film but I am surprised to hear about Carmi Gillon’s “personal crisis” after failing to prevent Rabin’s murder. He has done quite well since then, considering he is responsible for the worst failure of the SHABAK in it history. For some reason, Shimon Peres likes him….he appointed him head of the so-called “Shimon Peres Peace Center” and then Israeli Ambassador to Denmark. He was later elected mayor of Mevasseret Zion. Sort of makes one wonder why Peres appointed this bungler to such positions, doesn’t it?

      Reply to Comment
    8. Joel

      “Avraham Shalom, head of the Shin Bet speaks for the first time about the 1984 Kav 300 affair, when terrorists who attacked an inter-city bus were photographed alive upon arrest and were then killed in custody.”

      The terrorists were beaten to death in a nearby field. A 12 year girl had just been shot to death during the rescue attempt.

      Reply to Comment
    9. I suggest that change only occurs from within, never ever imposed from the external; whether referring to a country or a single person. So until Israel manifests its Jewish De Klerk and the Palestinians manifest their own Mandela, Israelis and Palestinians are doomed to steadily increasing acts of violence and oppression (by the Israelis) and repeated violent responses by the Palestinians.

      The whole problem is Zionism, the idea that Jews can only exist in the world with their own homeland. All such nationalism leads to fascism. And once the fascism is full blown (which I suggest in Israel is now) it just gets worse and worse. No other society that succumbs to such nationalism survives, neither will Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Have you ever looked at a map of Europe?

        Reply to Comment
      • Rauna

        WM, you’re right. Jews can live anywhere on earth just like other people. It’s proven.They live happily and successfully in The State, Europe,Latin America and even in Iran. Offcourse there’s a preferential treatment towards the minority but it’s not only exclusive to the jews. It happens to all minority groups around the globe.

        Zionism is the real issue here.

        Reply to Comment
      • Leen

        Exactly, segeregation is unnatural. When the whites and the blacks in America were separated, it was unnatural and failed miserably. It is inheritently racist as well.

        Therefore, the Zionist idea that Jews must be separated from everyone else is entirely racist. Imagine if someone said, the white MUSt be separated from everyone else. Or black people MUST be separated from everyone else. People would be in an uproar.

        Reply to Comment
    10. Sydney

      “Of course I am worried!” he said. “I was worried before I made the film and I am more worried now.” If Obama doesn’t “roll up his sleeves and use his power to make change,” he said, “We are doomed.”

      Obama will not save us. He has better thing to do, and it not worth the hassle to him.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Aaron Gross

      “We are winning the battle and losing the war, they say.” I haven’t seen the movie yet (I hope to see it soon), but isn’t “winning the battle” exactly what we pay these guys for? Their job isn’t to win the war or even to understand the war. Their job is to keep Israelis as safe as possible, day to day, especially from terrorist attacks. They’re no more competent to talk about military/political strategy than anyone else.

      On the analytical abilities of the Shabak, we should never forget the big question of the 1990s: Was Arafat allowing terrorist attacks intentionally, as a tactic, or because he was unable to control the militias? The Shabak believed the latter; military intelligence believed the former. The aftermath of the Dolphinarium bombing showed conclusively that the Shabak was wrong and military intelligence was right – on the most important analytic question of the time.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Aaron Gross

      OK, I saw the movie. Some comments. It’s a lot, so I won’t be insulted if you don’t read them.

      1. Noam Sheizaf was right. What’s the big deal? These guys are just saying what the Zionist left has been saying forever. If we’re wrong about that, could someone please tell me what new insight I missed?

      2. The most striking thing to me, which no one mentioned yet: There is absolutely no explicit discussion in the film of the root causes of the problem. One supposed root cause is implied only obliquely, in that the history starts in 1967, not in 1948 or 1917. But the conclusions drawn by some of the subjects, and obviously by the filmmaker himself, are crucially dependent on one specific theory of the root cause. In a nutshell: whether we’re fighting the war of 1967 or the war of 1948.

      If we’re fighting the war of 1967, then the solution is obvious: get the hell out of Judea, Samaria, and (still) Gaza. The film predicates its whole message on a strongly disputed premise that is never explicitly addressed. As I said in my previous comment, Shabak people are no more competent than the rest of us to answer this question.

      3. After a while of watching Assholes on Parade, I became interested in the question, “Which one is the biggest asshole?” I’m surprised this topic hasn’t been discussed, actually. My vote definitely goes to Ami Ayalon. There’s only one who did not come across as an asshole at all; that was Yuval Diskin.

      4. Some of these people – the bully Ami Ayalon especially – are very shallow thinkers, who believe that they have great wisdom to impart whenever they open their mouths, so you’d better listen to them, dammit. What they lack in knowledge they make up for in arrogance. For instance, Ayalon’s completely wrongheaded description of Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil,” which is ironic because he apparently does not engage in what Arendt identified as the antidote to it: what she called “thinking,” as opposed to “reckoning with consequences.” But this isn’t the kind of person whose mistakes you correct out loud.

      5. The historical distortions promulgated by some of these people are breathtaking. Israel was not moving in the direction of peace when Rabin was assassinated. Rabin was already quite unpopular by that time, even among many former supporters. A majority of Jews favored Netanyahu over Rabin by the time of the assassination. Rabin’s death moved Israel sharply to the left, not to the right; Peres could have won easily if he’d called elections sooner. What killed Israeli hope for peace was terrorism, which was clearly sponsored by Arafat – not Rabin’s assassination.

      One of the subjects blames the Aksa Intifada solely on Palestinian despair at the Oslo process, with no mention of the Camp David meeting or of the evidence that the Aksa Intifada was initiated from above, by Fatah.

      6. Lisa’s statement here that Diskin said he agreed with every word quoted to him from Leibowitz is true, but misleading. Right after saying that, when the interviewer presses him to elaborate, Diskin says that he does not agree that Israel has become a “Shabak state,” but that he agrees with the rest. That was actually the biggest element of Leibovitz’s prediction, in my opinion, and I think Diskin was correct to say that hasn’t come to pass.

      All that said, there are some interesting moments in the film as well. Pretty much everything Yuval Diskin says is interesting, but unfortunately he doesn’t get that much screen time. There’s some interesting stuff on how they killed “the Engineer.” But like Noam said, not a whole lot new here.

      Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        Rabin himself was moving away from Oslo at the time he was murdered. He told then Deputy Chief-of-Staff Moshe Boogie Ya’alon that after the upcoming elections he would try to get out of Oslo. His daughter Daliah also confirmed hearing that. However, the myth of the Beilinist far-Left is that somehow Arafat “had confidence” in Rabin and would have supposedly reached a peace agreeement with him, which is a blatant falsehood. The fact that these “security experts” repeat nonsense like that just shows how shallow indeed these men, entrusted with Israel’s security, really are.

        Reply to Comment
    13. Peter Hindrup

      “…that they have to support Israel, no matter what” is actually “damaging the state of Israel” and “damaging their own goal of protecting Israel as a safe haven for them,” because if Israel continues on its present path it will soon be a place they would not want to live in — i.e., an apartheid state.

      If Australia is anything to go by, the Jews do not give a damn for the Palestinians.
      One, a friend, told me in a burst of fury, ‘that we ought to have killed them all, while we had the chance!”

      Reply to Comment
    14. rick

      The author says the film is not “left wing”….I find that misleading- in an otherwise spot-on review. No film or book is “left wing”; the question is..is it factual in content AND context, which it is. Coincidentally, these are the same facts and context that the “Left Wing” has been stating for over 15 years. I have personally lost 2 jobs, one within the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, for simply asking question about these the injustices and implications of the Occupation. Me and my friends have been shouted at and spat upon literally and figuratively for years espousing identical views as this film. So excuse me if I take offense about the film not being “left wing”.

      Reply to Comment
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