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The Gatekeepers - Movie Review - 2012

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The Gatekeepers - Movie Review - 2012

'The Gatekeepers' - Composite shot of six former heads of Shin Bet

Sony Pictures Classics

An Unprecedented Insider View of Israeli Counter Terrorism

Even if you're a buff about the history of the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, you've probably never been exposed to this documentary's take on the occupation of Palestinian territories. That's because Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh has gained unprecedented access to former heads of Israel's counter terrorism agency, the Shin Bet, the internal intelligence gathering outfit that oversees, to a large extent, the relationship between Israeli and Palestinian populations within Israel's borders, and in the occupied territories.

In on camera interviews, six former Shin Bet chiefs speak with surprising candor about the influence their unit has exerted in establishing the political climate in the occupied territories and throughout Israel from 1980 to the present. They describe participating in politically-motivated assassinations of targeted victims -- including the 1996 murder of Yahya Ayyash, a Hamas engineer, by using a cell phone rigged bomb -- and other controversial acts -- Including torture of detainees -- that have been carried out in the aftermath of a war that -- even if it is officially over -- had not yet been forgotten or reconciled, and that still has ongoing and dire ramifications for both Jews and Palestinians.

As the six Shin Bet former chiefs speak out, they reveal details about acts and missions that will undoubtedly be considered controversial. The men seem wise, worldly and weary as they admit that some of their activities -- especially their loosing state-sanctioned violence -- had a huge cost in human lives and helped to institutionalize the ongoing enmities between Jews and Palestinians that make present day peacemaking efforts so very challenging.

Interviews with the Shin Bet former heads are shot in extreme closeup, while archival black and white footage is used to illustrate the points they make. There are sequences of Israeli soldiers waking through refugee camps, satellite views of moving vehicles that have been targeted for attack, night vision raids and meticulous simulations of Israeli bombing attacks and raids on suspected terrorists.

Using the images as background to the close up interviews is an effective, sometimes chilling conceit. The images underscore the veracity and accuracy of the Shin Bet leaders' analysis.

The Key Players

Avraham Shalom (Shin Bet chief from 1980-86), Yaakov Peri (chief from 1988-94) and Avi Dichter (chief from 2000-06) indicate how Israel's attempt to establish military authority over one million Palestinians in 1967, following the Six Day War, was a dismal failure, as ongoing violence in a series of attacks and retaliations were spurred by mistrust, language differences that made effective communication impossible, and the numerous arrests followed by notoriously cruel and unusual interrogation methods applied to innocent Palestinians by Israeli agents. They also note the agencies ineffectual response to the 1987 Intifada, and the birth of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, with their clearly articulated and organized threats of violence and terrorist activity.

Can Violence Beget Peace?

Beyond their statements about Shin Bet's questionable policies and actions, the former chiefs are clearly critical of Israeli heads of state -- from Golda Meir to Menachem Begin -- for not figuring the Palestinian point of view and imperative into their policies for settlement and development. Their comments underscore the notion that peace cannot be dictated, but must be negotiated -- with the goals of both parties or groups to be taken into consideration.

The comments of the six former Shin Bet heads is quite fascinating and somewhat contradictory. They who so readily admit Shin Bet's failings, do not apologize for the agencies policies and actions, nor for their results. Nor do they seem personally or emotionally regretful for their behavior.

However, their somber tone and dour expressions seem to indicate that they, collectively, bemoan their country's arrival at the current impasse between Jews and Palestinians, and the continued, always escalating enmity and inherent threat of violence and danger that exists in today's Israel.

This documentary is likely to be called both pro-Palestinian and anti-Palestinian, pro-Israeli or anti-Israeli. Actually, it is neither. The film is a skillful interrogation of six eye witnesses to history, six men who were in large part responsible for shaping the relationship between Jews and Palestinians in modern Israel, and who are willing and eager to tell what they know about what happened while they were in charge.

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Film Details:

  • Title: The Gatekeepers
  • Director: Dror Moreh
  • U.S. Theatrical Release: February 1, 2013
  • Running time: 95 minutes
  • Parents Guide: Add content advisory for parents
  • Country: Israel, Palestinian Occupied Territories, Gaza
  • Language: English and Hebrew with English subtitles
  • Distribution: Sony Pictures Classics
  • Official Website
  • Trailer

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