The Gatekeepers (M)
Review by Helen Fallaw
To sit in the cinema agreeing with the hard men, six former heads of Israeli security, is surprising. But that’s what a powerful documentary can do; it can inform and shift your thinking.
Director of The Gatekeepers, Dror Moreh, persuaded all living former heads of Shin Bet to talk to camera about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to reflect on their roles and discuss what they see as the solution. (Shin Bet is the organisation responsible for internal security in the state of Israel. Mossad is responsible for external security.)
When asked in a BBC interview about how he got them to agree to appear in his film, Moreh said: “They don’t like each other but they all agree on the need to talk and negotiate with the Palestinians and that Israel must move to the two-state solution.” That agreement on the two-state solution is what had me surprised.
The film is structured in a series of chapters with evocative titles such as ‘One Man’s Terrorist is Another Man’s Freedom Fighter’, ‘Our own Flesh and Blood’ and ‘Collateral Damage’.
The expression ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’, is pretty much a cliché but it resonates with meaning as you watch the expression on Yuval Diskin’s face as he describes his experience in the peace process following the Oslo Accord (1993). Diskin came face-to-face with his enemies, had to negotiate with them and acknowledge that truth. It was not only the realisation that the Palestinians are freedom fighters but, for them, Diskin was a terrorist.
One of the most intriguing chapters for me was, ‘Our own Flesh and Blood’, which considers the problem of Jewish terrorism within the state of Israel, the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin (1995) and the problem of the settlements.
The extreme right-wing of Israel is seen by these men as the greatest threat to the two-state solution because of the failure of the state to deal with its own extremists. The film provides access to the reflections of men who have dealt with decisions outside the realm of experience for most of us – the morality of collateral damage, torture and targeted assassination.
It is confronting but it also takes you into the reality of the workings of the state of Israel.
Avraham Shalom, the oldest of the group who has been accused of killing unarmed, shackled prisoners, reflects on the limitations of the power of their role as the heads of Shin Bet. They employ tactics, he says, but it is up to the political process to decide the strategy.
All are concerned by the lack of will shown by the political process to put the necessary effort into strategy of the two-state solution and that is why they have spoken out.
The film has a political intent and will be controversial for that reason. It has entered a realm of both vexed and entrenched views. Whatever your view, it seems valuable to listen to these men of real experience of the conflict from the inside.