Dr. Charles G. Cogan Headshot

The Palestinian Occupation: Even (Or Especially) the 'Gatekeepers' Say It Isn't Working

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I saw, earlier this week, the astonishing film, The Gatekeepers, a documentary of interviews with six former chiefs of the Israeli Internal Security Service, the Shin Beth. I would describe the film as the pendant of the Gilles Pontecorvo film, The Battle of Algiers, which is a documentary on the Algerian resistance (1954-1962) against the French occupation. In the two cases, Algeria and the Palestine Mandate, it was a question of elements from Europe transporting themselves to other continents -- respectively Africa and Asia.

Though the two situations are different in that, unlike the French in Algeria, the Israelis, back in history, had a leading presence in the land they much, much later moved in on; nevertheless, there are similarities. What struck me most about The Gatekeepers was reminiscent of The Battle of Algiers: thousands and thousands of indigenous faces shouting or silently expressing their unhappiness at living under the thumb of foreign occupying forces. Looking at this sea of frustration, in frames that must have come largely from official Israeli footage, I said to myself, how can the Israelis, in continuing an occupation that has lasted over 45 years, hope to contain this movement?

As one of the six interviewees in The Gatekeepers observed, the policies of the Israeli government, and specifically the operations of the Shin Beth "didn't solve the problem of the occupation." This was Avraham Shalom, who was known as "the Viennese," not just because he was born there in 1928 but because of his cultivated, Mittel-Europa manner. Another interviewee was Yuval Dishkin, who broke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in January 2013 because of the latter's adventurism toward Iran's nuclear ambitions and his immobilism on the Palestinian issue. There was general agreement among the interviewees that the Israeli government's interest in the peace process went down sharply with the assassination of Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin.

What surprises the viewer is the pessimism and pragmatism of these ex-Shin Beth chiefs. One hears such phrases as "we should have reached an agreement and gotten out [of the occupied territories]"; "there was no strategy"; and "the only solution is to talk to the Palestinians." As A.O. Scott, who reviewed the film in the New York Times on November 25, 2012 observed, "The audience is absorbing a collective history, but also coming to know a collection of complicated, thoughtful human beings, who are willing to share not only their war stories, but also their doubts, qualms ands conflicted emotions." Shalom concluded his interview with the statement that, "The future is very dark."