In light of the story of Passover and of President Obama's recent comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, now is the time to see Dror Moreh's brilliant Academy Award-nominated documentary The Gatekeepers. The film tells the story of the Israeli Shin Bet, Israel's security service, from the perspective of six former heads of the organization. And from the perspective of these individuals, ones who have led Israel's security strategy and are experts on the Palestinian conflict, occupation is not only unsustainable in terms of security but unjust.
The Gatekeepers paints its subjects as imperfect, smart individuals who sometimes regret their mistakes and other times don't back down from controversial decisions. They certainly often disagree on the handling of individual incidents. But what's important is that the common thread among all six, however, is that the time for dialogue with Palestinians is now. Why?
According to Avraham Shalom, head of the Shin Bet from 1981-1986, the Israeli occupation of Palestine is "a brutal force, similar to the Germans in World War II." While pundits have grossly taken this statement out of context to the point where it sounds like Shalom is calling Israelis Nazis, what he really means, as he distinguishes in the film, is that the relationship between Israeli settlers and Palestinians is similar to that between the German army and, say, Poland, not similar to how Germans treated Jews.
The defining moment of The Gatekeepers comes towards the end of the film, when Yaakov Peri, head of the Shin Bet from 1988-1994, says, after describing the psychological effects of his job, "When you retire, you become a bit of a leftist." It's an inspiring moment for those who support a group in Israel that seems to be sleeping (save for the occasional spot-on Ha'aretz op-ed) but have perhaps reawakened after Obama's comments.
Initially, it seemed that all was lost and that no United States president would again speak as honestly to Israel as President Clinton did. But after Obama's speech to Israeli youth, it's at least a little more hopeful that a new generation will grow up reconsidering those who espouse manifest destiny-like religious policies and a one-state solution. And never has such an impressively thorough film been made about such a secretive organization. Best of all, Moreh is careful to allow his subjects to do most of the talking and leave the audience with plenty of food for thought about the state of Israel and its enemies. He wants to fulfill the wishes of his subjects and start a dialogue. Ultimately, The Gatekeepers is a testament to the ability of great art and of exemplary journalism to make a political statement and hopefully enact positive change.
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