REVIEW: The Gatekeepers

Dror Moreh, director
Feature documentary on the Israeli Shin Bet starring its leaders: Avraham Shalom (1981-1986), Yaakov Peri (1988-1994); Carmi Gillon (1994-1996); Ami Avalon (1996-2000); Avi Dichter (2000-2005); and Yuval Diskin (2005-2011)

Reviewed by Marc Glassman

It takes a truly gifted documentary filmmaker to bring us into the heart of darkness, where people do terrible things for reasons that shock most of us. Errol Morris won an Oscar for Fog of War by uncovering the motivations of Robert McNamara, the US Secretary of Defense who was the architect of the escalation of the Vietnam War. In Canada, John Kastner courageously engaged with a Canadian family that stuck together even when one sibling killed another in Life With Murder. Now, director Dror Moreh has joined in with a memorable look at the leaders of the Shin Bet, Israel’s top security agency, in The Gatekeepers.

It takes bravery, intelligence, patriotism and ruthlessness to be a successful secret agent, let alone the leader of an entire organisation dedicated to national security. Bottom line—you have to be willing to kill people whom you perceive to be an enemy of the state. Moreh was able to secure the participation of the last six heads of the Shin Bet to explain what they did—and why—during the past 30 years, as Israel engaged in a long series of fights with Palestinians, Lebanese and Syrians.

By focusing on the Shin Bet, Moreh is able to relate the complex tale of terrorism, counter-terrorism, freedom fighting, suicide bombings, assassinations and deceit, which has sadly become inextricably bound into the modern history of Israel. A country founded on democratic principles has had its own ideals challenged and downgraded since the occupations of the West Bank, Golan Heights and Gaza Strip in 1967.

Through interviews with the Shin Bet elite coupled with graphic archival footage of bombings and shootings, The Gatekeepers offers a trenchant account of what’s been happening in Israel over the decades. The Shin Bet hasn’t had to deal solely with Arabs as enemies. Jews—particularly Orthodox ones—have also provided immense security issues to the Israeli nation. The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by Yigal Amir was a devastating blow to Israel, the peace process—-and Shin Bet.

The Gatekeepers offers a tough-minded look at contemporary Israel through the eyes of its most diligent and ruthless governmental supporters. The fact that the majority of former Shin Bet leaders are now believers in a two-state solution to the on-going Israeli-Palestine conflict is a devastating commentary on the situation. The war on terrorism spearheaded by Shin Bet is clearly a failure. The Gatekeepers is a superb doc and should be seen by as wide an audience as possible.