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Sat March 30, 2013
Watch real power talk about itself.
Cast: Ami Avalon, Avraham Shalom
Runtime: 101 min.
by John DeSando
"These are philosophical questions, not practical ones," Yaakov Peri
If the Arab-Israeli conflict interests you, then take a close look at The Gatekeepers, a first-rate documentary about Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency primarily responsible for Israel’s complicated relationship with Palestine, for both good and bad.
Director Dror Moreh has the six former heads of the agency speak as candidly as is possible for men were cautious in the extreme about safety and negotiation, causing death, destruction, and reconstruction to people who just can’t seem to settle their differences.
As a one-time head avers in the quote above, for the leaders of the agency, founded in 1949 immediately after Israel declared its independence, the decisions of Shin Bet most often depended on the tactic rather than the strategy. Such a mode led to the Bus 300 affair in 1984 with Israeli operatives beating two Arab bus hijackers to death upon orders from Avaraham Shalom, head of the agency at that time. The decision, according to him, was a matter of not having to deal with the terrorists in arrest. And you thought drones were cold.
Ruthless and efficient as Shin Bet is, it couldn’t stop Israeli Prime Minister Yitzah Rabin’s assassination in 1995, even when it knew the identity of the assassin beforehand. Yet the documentary’s thrust, ruled as it is by seasoned intelligence officers who lack self-recrimination, is that the agency did what it had to do and was on the whole successful protecting Israel.
As the film moves toward its end and the elderly leaders ruminate, one states he has moved toward the left in his old age, suggesting that decisions to accept collateral damage to civilians were necessary but regrettable. As I watch in fascination, I could only think how nice to be able to live with oneself and shift on the political spectrum with barely a scratch.
The Gatekeepers, deservedly nominated for a 2012 Oscar, does what a good doc should do—lets the subjects talk for themselves and thereby cleanly exalt and exonerate themselves without directorial intrusion (except in the editing room, of course).
Closer to the truth of the occupation’s collateral damage, Shalom evaluates himself and his fellow leaders:
"We have become cruel to ourselves but mainly to the occupation."
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at WCBE.org. He also appears on Fox 28’s Man Panel. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com