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Friday, 15 March 2013 01:00

'The Gatekeepers' opens the doors to Israel's Shin Bet

'The Gatekeepers' opens the doors to Israel's Shin Bet
Written by Diane Carson
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Documentaries rank among the best films I see every year, but Israel's "The Gatekeepers" also merits recognition as the most unexpected, even astonishing, for several reasons. First, six former directors of Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, granted director Dror Moreh extensive on-camera interviews, interviews, he says, he asked for at least twenty times to secure each.

Second, their comments about the Palestinian situation and West Bank occupation are surprising in content and directness. These men's Shin Bet leadership covered years from 1980 to 2011. They are: Ami Ayalon, Avid Dichter, Yuval Diskin, Carmi Gillon, Yaakov Peri, and Avraham Shalom--all the surviving Shin Bet leaders. They directly address the issue of terrorism, interrogation, informants, and retaliation. They describe and comment critically on specific incidents that occurred on their watch.

To aid those not conversant with the history, the film includes computer-generated images reimagining events. In a 1984 bus-hijacking incident that didn't end well, still black and white photographs from journalists on the scene provide the basis for its presentation. At other times, archival footage fills in the background of which the men speak, including rocket attacks on Israel and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's 1995 assassination.

To be sure, each man's statements prove as surprising and powerful as the visual images. For example, in discussing several actions, Mr. Ayalon (Shin Bet head 1996-2000) says, "You ask yourself less and less where to stop" and "We win every battle, but we lose the war." In another stunning comment, Mr. Shalom observes, "There was no strategy, just tactics" and he notes "We have become cruel to ourselves but mainly to the occupation." The remarkable consensus is that current policy proves ineffective in achieving peaceful aims, despite recognition of the supreme difficulty of change amidst moral concerns.

Shin Bet translates loosely as "in service of safety." It's no stretch to say that this amazing documentary joins that endeavor. Director Moreh has said that he made this film primarily for the Israeli audience, but he hopes everyone interested in peace sees it. He is developing a five-part Israeli television series from "The Gatekeepers" as well as a book. Among many other awards (and though it didn't win), "The Gatekeepers" was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary for this past year. In English and Hebrew with English subtitles. At a Landmark Theatre.

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