The Gatekeepers – Movie Review

An inside look into one of the most secretive and sophisticated intelligence apparatus in the world may not be what you expected.

This is the kind of film that may be doomed never to get the kind of attention it deserves. It is the documentary of the six surviving former heads of the Israeli security apparatus, Shin Bet, discussing the past, present and future of the state of Israel.

The Shin bet replaced the legendary Mossad and has continued the tradition of arguably the best and strongest security apparatus in the world for a country even close to the size of Israel. The film includes striking archival footage of the Six Day war and, of course, shots into the ultra-secret file rooms of the Shin Bet, a cavernous plain of documents of an expanse almost impossible to imagine.

As the stories and political opinions of the six unfold, the fascinating nature of this film emerges. These are not six talking heads that are on film to reiterate the party line of the Israeli state. In fact, if anything emerges at all it is that there may not be a party line, at all.

Underscoring the fertile, bordering on anarchic, nature of the Israeli democracy is the fact that Islamic extremist terrorists are being replaced by even deadlier and more tragically constituted domestic terrorists. The future of the Shin Bet may be more in the realm of policing and investigating its own citizens than the constituents of foreign terrorist organizations.

This is consistent with the opinions of the past holders of one of the most powerful and influential political positions in the world. The persistence of the traditional Zionist stance to ensure security through universal rule of the region is collapsing under the weight of not only world opinion but of basic practical expediency.

A two state solution must be pursued that allows legitimate and solid Palestinian representation. Yaakav Peri (head of Shin Bet 1988 to 1995) tells how he risked his reputation, as well as his life, when as a confidante of Yitzchak Rabin, he negotiated security agreements with the Palestinians.

Handpicked by Peri to succeed him, Carmi Gillon was on watch when Rabin paid with his life for his outreach to Palestinian representatives in the search for peace. After his killing by a Jewish extremist, Gillon took full responsibility and resigned.

Along with descriptions of this evolving state of affairs are expressions of the hopelessness of stopping suicide bombers of any stripe. One of the past intelligence chiefs described a conversation with a head of Hamas as describing the situation in the starkest of terms. “You send your F-16s after us; we will send our suicide bombers after you.” As it turns out, it is as difficult to stop the latter as it is the former. As the former Shin Bet boss said, “We have become cruel. We need to create a better political reality.

Avraham Shalom (head of Shin bet from 1980 to 1986) tells one of the scariest stories in the film, the near destruction of the Dome of the Rock temple by Jewish domestic terrorists. The intent was to destroy the sacred Islamic site to upset the peace process and plunge the region into yet another Intifada, of not outright war.

At the last minute, Shin Bet was able to infiltrate the conspirators and intercept the explosive-laden scenario. Another day, or even and another hour of delay, could have seen the detonation of enough military explosive to bring down the entire temple on top of untold hundreds of worshippers.

Although victorious in that operation, he was not able to stop the domestic terrorists from opening fire on students of the Islamic College of Hebron. Nor was he able to stop the car bombing and maiming of the mayors of Ramallah and Nablus by associated groups of home-grown vigilantes.

As much a shocking revelation as an inside look at the mechanics of spy administration, “The Gatekeepers” will leave you in awe of the men who have (barely) controlled it. The picture that emerges is one of having a mighty bull by the horns and fighting to survive the organization as much as fighting to control it. There is commentary on torture and why it seldom works, and why superior armies, hardware and even superior international sanctions may not be enough to secure peace in the Middle East.

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Directed by: Dror Moreh
Featuring: Ami Ayalon, Avraham Shalom, Avi Dichter, Yuval Diskin, Carmi Gillon, Yaakov Peri
Release Date: February 1, 2013
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for violent content including disturbing images
Run Time: 95 minutes
Country: Israel / France / Germany / Belgium
Language: English / Hebrew
Color: Color / Black and White