Published Jan 16, 2013Israel's internal security service, better known as the Shin Bet, was formed in 1949 with the motto, "Defender that shall not be seen." As one of the principal organizations of the Israeli Intelligence Community, its primary duties are to safeguard the state and its officials, expose terrorist rings and interrogate terror suspects, in addition to providing intelligence for counter-terrorism operations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Given Israel's tumultuous history with war, civil unrest and terrorism, the Shin Bet has been in the thick of things for several decades.
Director Dror Moreh's The Gatekeepers shines a light on an otherwise unknown entity, affording the world a disquieting exposé of the Shin Bet by interviewing six former heads of the historically secretive agency. These men provide candid accounts of their time in office, much of which revolved around various destructive assaults against their Palestinian neighbours.
Among the interview subjects is Yuval Diskin, who headed the Shin Bet until 2011, providing the most recent memories of his experience while in office. Diskin also delivers some of the most unsettling dialogue in the documentary, detailing bombings intended for terrorist targets that often led to the deaths of innocents. The older Carmi Gillon, having served in the mid-'90s, provides a different vantage point of the organization, claiming that when it comes to terrorism, there are no morals.
The eldest of the six is Avraham Shalom, who was head of the Shin Bet for the first half of the '80s, and he recalls the choices he made and subsequent hurdles he faced. It's fascinating to hear from a man that made decisions to kill now say that Israel should remain open to negotiation with anyone, including Hamas, in the hopes of giving progress a chance.
The documentary provides an unattractive account of Israel's history in the wake of the Six-Day War. It addresses the Kav 300 Affair of 1984 that thrust the Shin Bet into the spotlight for their execution of two Arab hijackers, resulting in a scandal that called into question the motives and directive of the organization, as well as the 1993 Oslo Accords and ensuing assassination of Yitzchak Rabin in 1995.
Its 95-minute runtime is packed with archival footage, recreations and gruesome photos, but The Gatekeepers is mainly driven by the interviews with the former Shin Bet leaders. And since none are in office, it allows them to speak their minds without fear of political backlash. This is key, since all of the subjects come to express their concern over where Israel is currently headed at present day, labeling it a "police state."
Sadly, the film only provides a grim outlook rather than suggesting solutions. This is emphasized when one of the former Shin Bet leaders states, "we don't realize that we face a frustrating situation, in which we win every battle, but we lose the war." (Mongrel Media)