Scene On Film: ‘The Gatekeepers’

March 22, 2013
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By Joan Ellis

If you are confused about the issues in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, you are not likely to gain clarity from The Gatekeepers. What you will carry away is a chilling grasp of the intensity of the hatred on both sides.

Shin Bet is the Israeli intelligence agency in charge of the West Bank and Gaza. Six former agency heads are interviewed in this documentary history of the conflict since the Six Days War of 1967 brought 1 million Palestinians under Israeli rule. Brutality became policy – either in forestalling imminent attacks or retaliating as punishment. For decades they dealt with the mission of running the attacks and counterattacks that sprang up as the occupied people raged in insurrection.  Each side saw the other as terrorists.

Poster for The Gatekeepers.

Poster for The Gatekeepers.

When a covert intelligence agency is unleashed, we ask where the ultimate power resides. Where was the government? The prime minister? Who was discussing the question of who had the right to order the killings and the torture?

Shin Bet spent little time discussing morality. By 1994 when the first suicide bus bombings began, both Hamas and the Islamic Jihad were willing to die for the cause. We watch actual footage of the interrogation of prisoners handcuffed in tortured positions, hoods tied tightly over their heads, a Hamas agent blown up by an exploding cellphone, breaking mens’ backs and killing terrorists whose hands were tied.

When Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, the Oslo Accords and any small pro­gress in the peace process were thoroughly undermined. In a strong policy statement, Rabin had said, “We will fight terror as if there is no peace process and continue the peace process as if there is no terror.” After his death, blamed by many on Shin Bet’s failure to protect him, the desire for peace vanished.

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Filmmaker Dror Moreh has drawn from each of his subjects a remarkable portrait of what happens when a nation decides that violence is the only currency that works. Their candid assessments of their failures and victories are not the stuff of ordinary political discourse.

We search the conversations in vain for voices that might rise above the conflict but are left with the quote, “Victory for us is to see you suffer.” Through it all, the religious beliefs and symbols so important to Israel are under attack and those become the motivating focus of the suffering on both sides.

In a harbinger of today’s drone discussions, we listen to talk of the collateral damage wrought by Shin Bet by targeted bombing from the air. What is the morality of dropping a 1-ton bomb to get one man while killing unintended innocents?

And so goes the debate, first in Israel, now in the U.S. Who is entitled to make the moral and operational decisions involved in the targeted bombings? Shin Bet? CIA? As one says here, “We are making millions of lives intolerable.”  This is the collateral damage of the new art of war.


Rated PG-13


Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is

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