"The Gatekeepers," a new documentary, is an extraordinary look at Israel's recent historyby Jay Elwes / April 11, 2013 / Leave a comment
The Gatekeepers, a film by the Israeli director Dror Moreh, is a formidable achievement. For the first time ever, not one but six former heads of the Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence organisation roughly equivalent to Britain’s MI5, have spoken at length on camera about operations and the internal workings of the agency. Together, they make an extraordinary collection of individuals—and this is an extraordinary film.
Most astounding is their candour. Avraham Shalom, the head of Shin Bet from 1980-1986, was one of the agents who brought Adolf Eichmann back from Argentina to stand trial in Jerusalem. When talking about the threats faced by Israel, Shalom recounts the immediate aftermath of the 1984 hijacking of the number 300 bus by a Palestinian group in Tel Aviv. The bus was eventually stormed by the Israeli army and the attackers were captured, arrested and taken away. Shalom, an old man with a passing resemblance to Warren Buffett who up to this point has appeared almost avuncular, then recounts how the soldiers beat the men nearly to death. They then handed them over to Shin Bet operatives who finished them off by stoving their heads in with rocks. At this, Shalom fixes the camera with the stare of a quite different man. The interviewer presses Shalom on the episode. The old man becomes increasingly uncomfortable. What does he think of the morality of what was done that night by the spy service that he ran? “In the war on terror,” replies Shalom, “forget about morality.”
The Gatekeepers traces Israeli history since the 1967 war, when the country captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and the modern borders of the country were effectively set. The film amounts to an examination of the relationship between Israel’s politics and its security, and the results of this examination are as fascinating as they are dispiriting. This is especially so in the section of the film that deals with the Oslo Accords, signed in 1993 by Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, an event initially greeted with jubilation. But in signing the agreement, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), which had until that time been Israel’s main opponent, effectively removed itself from the fight. Into the gap left by the PLO stepped Islamic Jihad and Hamas, organisations that brought with them a whole new arsenal of tactics.