A new Israeli film, nominated today for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, is offering a unique look into the country’s past as seen through the eyes of six former directors of the Shin Bet security service — and finds these former national security chiefs all deeply worried about the moral price the nation has paid for its occupation of Palestinian territories.
“The Gatekeepers,” directed by Dror Moreh, has already received overwhelming critical acclaim and garnered multiple awards for its unflinching honesty in confronting the deepest challenges facing Israel.
Examining both the decision-making of the Shin Bet and the human cost of the 46-year occupation, “Gatekeepers”, according to A.O. Scott of The New York Times, is “essential, eye-opening viewing if you think you understand the Middle East.”
Moreh persuaded all six living Shin Bet chiefs, who ran the agency for all but two years between 1980 and 2011, to go on camera and speak with astounding frankness and honesty. The movie takes the viewer chronologically, through both Intifadas, the rise of terrorism and suicide bombings, and the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
The six former chiefs — Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter and Yuval Diskin — are very different in personality outlook but ultimately each came to believe that a Palestinian state should have been created years ago and that Israel’s political leaders failed to rise to the challenge of making it happen.
Moreh, who said he “wanted to put a mirror in front of Israeli society, forcing it to confront the situation we are in,” reveals that some of Israel’s most fateful decisions were not always preceded by careful strategic deliberation. In one key moment, Ami Ayalon, director from 1996-2000, remembers that as a child, he was certain that in Jerusalem, there was a “wise man, who makes decisions.” Years later, he realized that in Jerusalem “no one was thinking for me.”
These six tough men question Israeli thinking through the occupation, and suggest alternative courses of action. Avraham Shalom, director from 1981-1986, insists that Israel cannot afford not to talk to its enemies, and examines the contradictions within the Israel Defense Forces. “On one hand,” he says, “it wants to be a people’s army and on the other, a cruel occupation army, similar to the Germans during World War II.” In another scene, Yaakov Peri, who led the agency through the First Intifada and the Oslo Accords, and is now running in Israeli elections with Yesh Atid, admits that “after retiring from this job, you become a bit of a leftist.”
By showing Israel’s security establishment, warts and all, the film provides an honest and spin-free window into Israel’s current political predicament. Most of all, “Gatekeepers” leaves viewers with more reason than ever to believe, that as Ayalon says toward the end, “we are winning all the battles. And we are losing the war.”