Review – The Gatekeepers (15) [2013]

The Gstekeepers - title banner2

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Dror Merah – Sharon

Cast:

  • Avraham Shalom Ben-Dor
  • Yaacov Peri
  • Carmi Gillon
  • Ami Ayalon
  • Avi Dichter
  • Yuval Diskin

Music Composer:

  • Regis Baillet
  • Jerome Chassagnard

There is great interest in the media regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Much of this interest focusses on the social and political aspect of the conflict. However, little regard is given to the security angle. Dror Merah’s Oscar-nominated The Gatekeepers explores this particular viewpoint superbly with openness and maturity.

Avraham Shalom, the most morally dubious of the six men, explaining his view on the 300 bus hijacking in 1984.

Avraham Shalom, the most morally dubious of the six men, explaining his view on the 300 bus hijacking in 1984.

The Gatekeepers is an Israeli documentary about the Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic intelligence-gathering security agency. Merah explains the role of the Shin Bet by interviewing six of the most recent heads of the organisation, including Avraham Shalom Ben-Dor (1981-86), Yaacov Peri (1988-94), Carmi Gillon (1994-96), Ami Ayalon (1996-2000), Avi Dichter (2000-05) and Yuval Diskin (2005-11). The documentary explores seven themes and analyses some contentious incidents and events between the 1980s and the 2000s, and how the Shin Bet dealt with them through a mixture of interviews and digital-reconstructions.

The Gatekeepers is an intellectually heavy film that deals with numerous controversial events. Merah does not shy away from asking his interviewees difficult questions, and the answers are unexpectedly candid on a range of incidents and events, such as what happened to the terrorists who hijacked the 300 bus in 1984; the mistakes the Shin Bet have made regarding targeted assassinations; the organisation’s lack of awareness vis-à-vis Jewish terrorism in the run-up to Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin’s assassination in November 1995; and the lack of foresight regarding the Second Intifada between 2000-04, among many other issues.

Ami Ayalon, the most passionate of the six men, giving a political opinion on Israel's current security situation.

Ami Ayalon, the most passionate of the six men, giving a political opinion on Israel’s current security situation.

That the interviewees are who they are entails that one takes their opinions seriously. Much of what they say is deep, thought-provoking and utterly relevant to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today. For them, invariably, moral and ethical conundrums were not merely academic debates, but life and death decisions that had to be made in minutes if they were lucky, but usually in seconds.

Having to make such decisions (of varying legality) on a regular basis, it would be easy to believe that these six men are so desensitised to taking life and abusing the law that they are now socio-psychopaths and virtually inhuman. But what is astonishing is that all six men have a burdening conscience. They are all extremely conscientious of the powers that they once held in the Shin Bet, and that their actions (or omissions) cost and saved lives.

However, while the former heads of Shin Bet give a political view or two (after-all, it would be impossible for them not to), the political context of their work is mostly absent from The Gatekeepers. This is understandable because to explore the politics of the Arab-Israeli conflict in any kind of depth would take much longer than the documentary’s 101 minutes. Yet, for anyone who does not know anything about Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and the wider Middle East, The Gatekeepers is likely to be hard going, since he/she would have little idea as to why Israel invaded southern Lebanon in 1982, or why the Oslo Accords were signed in 1994, or what led to the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000, among other matters.

Avi Dichter, the most recent head of Shin Bet to be interviewed.

Avi Dichter, the most recent head of Shin Bet to be interviewed.

Nevertheless, regardless of whether one does or doesn’t know much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one is unlikely to come out of the film thinking highly of either the Israelis or the Palestinians. The six former heads of the Shin Bet spare no-one from culpability, whether it be the politicians or the peoples.

Over-all, The Gatekeepers is a stimulating, if morbid, portrayal of what the Shin Bet has done and the problems that the organisation continues to face on a regular basis. The six former heads of the organisation are remarkably frank and honest about their deeds, and demonstrate how responsible they feel for their actions and omissions, as well as for the events that happened under their watch. But one thing the six men do not is believe that the Shin Bet’s efforts to safeguard the Jewish state from threats of violence and terrorism will be lessening any time soon.

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