The Gatekeepers Blu-ray Review
THE GATEKEEPERS is a remarkable documentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the security force tasked to protect Israel. Director Dror Moreh managed to secure interviews with the six living former heads of the Shin Bet. Their insights are fascinating to hear and invaluable for anyone trying to learn more about this situation.
The Shin Bet is the intelligence agency for Israel responsible for protecting the country from terrorism, espionage and gather intel about people and groups designed to do Israel harm. This is a secretive organization and they work behind the shadows in many ways. Moreh’s biggest victory may have been to getting these men to talk on camera about their experiences. The men interviewed were Avraham Shalom (81-86 as head of Shin Bet), Yaakov Peri (88-94), Carmi Gillon (94-96), Ami Ayalon (96-00), Avi Dichter (00-05) and Yuval Diskin (05-11). All are pragmatic men with different approaches to their job.
The documentary is cut into seven chapters detailing key points of the last 45 years. After a scroll explaining about the Shin Bet, Moreh has Diskin discuss the impact of targeting and killing terrorists. You can tell that it still affects him even though he is out of office. It is a hard thing to do when you don’t know who else is in the car or house or the surrounding buildings. The intel has to be rock solid or a grave mistake can be made.
The Six-Day War in 1967 is the catalyst to all that has happened afterwards. Israel gained the territories of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Most of the participants believe the time to do something was right after this. It would have been far less messy and easier to do. Now things are a bit more complicated. The politicians seem to have no plan whatsoever with these territories. Therefore we have a chapter named “No Strategy, Just Tactics”. The Shin Bet became more prominent and powerful during this time. As Shalom points out, they were given a purpose with the terrorist attacks and bombings that occurred.
This is not a stuffy documentary that you used to fall asleep to in school. Moreh has created a vibrant entity using various tricks. Along with the great interviews, Moreh incorporates photographs, archived videos and CGI. His experience as a cinematographer helps frame what he shows and how he shows it. All of these techniques are put to the test early when the dissection of the Bus 300 Affair occurs. In 1984 four men hijack a bus. Two of these men were killed in the fire fight. The other two were captured and subsequently murdered. At first the coverage said that all four of the hijackers were killed in the takeover operation. This was disproven by photographs showing at least one of the men still alive. Moreh ingeniously uses CGI in recreating the event. He took the available photographs and effectively shows the aftermath.
Moreh throughout is not a passive observer to these events in history. He gets down and dirty and asks pointed questions where there are no easy answers. Shalom ordered the execution of the two captured men. The aftermath of the event led to his resignation. At first Shalom did not want to talk about this event, but Moreh was persistent in trying to get answers. This chapter was named “Forget about Morality”. That is a quote from Shalom when asked by Moreh if it was moral to kill these two men. It is an uncomfortable exchange, but it is telling. When dealing with terrorists, Shalom felt that you indeed had to forget about morality and focus on the task at hand. Shalom also said that the two prisoners were already beaten up badly by the military before he got to them. The photographs that were taken occurred before the beatings. That was the end of Shalom’s career and he puts a lot of the blame on the politicians for their inaction and for this episode.
The Oslo Accord was an attempt at peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is one of the few politicians who gets favorable coverage in the documentary. The participants thought he was on the right track before he was assassinated. The Oslo Accord may have lessened the importance of the PLO, but Hamas and Islamic Jihads were there to take up the slack. One of the most interesting things uncovered was about the Jewish Underground. They were responsible for murdering Palestinians and they had bigger plans. They were caught trying to plant bomb on buses and their ultimate goal was to bomb the Dome of the Rock. This is a Muslim shrine in Jerusalem. It is chilling hearing about these plans and what would have happened if this occurred. Three of the members were given life sentences, but they were let out after less than seven years. They were hailed as heroes by some, but not the heads of the Shin Bet. It took them months to capture these people and their disdain for politicians is quite palpable on the screen.
The assassination of Rabin is another sad moment that is still with these men. It came down hard on Gillon, who was in charge at the time. There is still pain in his eyes as he details that period. He says he tried to get Rabin to wear a bullet proof vest to no avail. The Shin Bet got a lot of criticism for their handling of this and things did change afterwards under Ayalon.
Gillon was showed in a bad light for the Rabin assassination, but he also gets his accolades later. Moreh goes over in exquisite details with the pursuit of Yayha Ayyash. He was a Hamas bomb maker responsible for many suicide attacks. Moreh adeptly uses CGI to recreate Ayyash’s hideout and the plan to kill him. The Shin Bet eventually get him with an exploding cell phone. There is glee on Gillon’s face as he recounts that no one else was hurt in this exchange and the execution was “elegant”.
Other Hamas leaders are targeted after this. Salah Shehadeh was killed with a one ton bomb that had a collateral damage of children being killed as well. There is another great exchange between Moreh and Dichter this time. Moreh questions why he would do this in this populous area. Dichter tries to say that the intelligence was wrong. Even Shalom criticized Dichter for these actions and that it was extreme overkill. On the next big targeted assassination they used a ¼ ton bomb instead of a 1 ton bomb that would have wiped out the entire building. It was a disaster since none of the leaders were killed. There is disdain in Dichter’s voice as he recounts the prime minister’s reluctance to use the bigger bomb because of the previous botched job. Eventually most of them did meet their demise.
The documentary gives no answers to the conflict. Some of the participants think there are dark days ahead. They don’t trust the politicians to do what is necessary to get peace. Shalom thinks communication is key even with Israel’s most hated enemies. Ayalon ends the documentary with a dark comment, “We win every battle, but we lose the war.” That is one of the more telling statements that a person can make. Even when they were taking out key terrorists, more would pop up in their places. It is an endless circle that seemingly has no end.
THE GATEKEEPERS is a great documentary that should be shown in history classes. It is relevant to the US because we are going through a similar situation. There are no easy answers and there really are no traditional heroes and villains in these stories. That should give everyone pause as they see the news on TV.
THE GATEKEEPERS BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: Images jump out on the screen with such clarity. This is a beautiful looking firm given a proper treatment.
Audio: The sound is clear as intended.
Commentary with Director Dror Moreh: You get a lot of juicy nuggets with this commentary. It took him three years to make it. Moreh was persistent in getting all six former living heads of the Shin Bet. The first one he got was Ayalon and the rest fell into place after that. Shalom was not going to discuss the Bus 300 Affair at first. You can see on screen as he finally does go over what happened. It is interesting hearing Moreh discuss his techniques and how he used videos from the Palestinian point of view that had never been shown in Israel.
Q & A with Director Dror Moreh (42:35): This is moderated by Stephen Farber. Moreh discusses the film further. He actually has a bleaker outlook on the future than the six participants. In this feature and the other one, he does not have kind words for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.