Title: The Gatekeepers
Sony Pictures Classics.
Director: Dror Moreh.
Screenwriter: Dror Moreh.
Cast: Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter, Yuval Diskin, Carmi Gillon, Yaakov Peri, Avraham Shalom
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 12/7/12.
Opens: February 1, 2013
If there is one element sadly amiss in the Israeli government it is their lack of an effective public relations campaign. Without Madison Avenue-style sound-bites, how can the countries sympathetic to the state such as those in Europe and North America understand why the continued building of settlements is to anyone’s net advantage? Just as Israel is bypassed by the United Nations, which in December 2012 voted observer status to Palestine, just as the small Jewish state could be making amends, the cabinet has authorized 3,000 more units not only in East Jerusalem (which in my book is fine) but also cutting the West Bank in such a way that a viable Arabic state will be impossible. C’mon, Israeli cabinet, tell us here in my country just what is going on?
Don’t hold your breath for a response. Instead take a look at Dror Moreh’s doc “The Gatekeepers,” in which people who are hardly Peace Now types inform us of their dreams and anxieties. The participants are retired members of the controversial Shin Bet (meaning “in the service of safety”), the national intelligence-gathering and terrorist fighting organization of Israel. The retirees are aging, looking avuncular, not at all like the image we’d have of tough, right-wing guardians of the state who’d think little of assassinating terrorists even if, in some cases, collateral damage would take innocent lives. Some of the them have shaved heads now, and one has a comb-over and laughs nervously though neither he nor anyone else among the half-dozen ex-chiefs is particularly humorous or witty. (Even a serious doc could use an injection of Michael Moore’s writing and direction.)
The organization was created in 1949, a year after the establishment of the State of Israel. However, since Israel’s Pyrrhic victory in the 1967 war, Shin Bet has been concentrating on the war’s fallout. (I say Pyrrhic victory even though most pro-Zionists consider it a miracle because the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank was the result, with all the problems that this has brought to Israelis.)
One fellow said that after retiring from Shin Bet, “you become a bit of a leftist,” meaning, I think, that looking back at the demonstrations by the Arabs under occupation, the suicide bombings, the guilt over collateral damage, the censure of a large part of the world, maybe the military leader Pyrrhus or Epirus was right in 279 B.C.E. holding that “one more such victory and we are lost.”
The retirees all spoke of the policy of targeting Hamas militants for assassination, though they seem neither gung-ho advocates nor critics. The impression they give is that Shin Bet is full of tactics but no overall strategy. (This means, I think, that you kill a few leaders and new leaders, even worse, spring up in their places.) The spokesmen regret some failures of the organization. They did not anticipate the outbreak of the First Intifada, a genuinely spontaneous outpouring of venom from the occupied Arabs including the throwing of rocks and Molotov cocktails by thousands of Palestinian men.
The interviewer is never seen as he evokes commentary from his subjects, the most pessimistic being “The future if very dark.” He does not elaborate, but anyone who follows Middle East politics realizes that time may not be on the side of Israel, a country the size of New Jersey, surrounding by Gazans who hate its nationals with passion and who have been stowing away advanced weaponry from Iran. Followers may also recall that Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon fought to a draw in 2006 during the administration of Prime Minister Olmert. What’s more Egypt has an Islamist at the helm now, a man not as eager as Mubarek to honor the peace treaty, Syria could conceivably wind up with a guy whose policy toward Israel is not the benign one of Mr. Assad, and fighting wars on so many fronts even if Iran never built nuclear bombs is absolutely frightening.
Archival films show thousands of Gazan men on the street demonstrating, computerized mayhem launched by Israelis to direct one-ton bombs on buildings wherein terrorists reside, shots of suspects being arrested as Israeli soldiers hammer down doors at midnight disrupting family life. Is this a way to gain love? More important, is this a way to improve security for Israel? As one retiree states, he would talk to anyone including Ahmadinejad, since refusal to negotiate even with terrorists is bad tactics, bad strategy.
Unrated. 97 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B-