The Gatekeepers: Israel’s Nominee for the Oscar

— by Steve Sheffy

You should see The Gatekeepers, which is nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Academy Award in the Ceremony today, while it’s still in the theaters, and urge everyone you know to see it. If you’re looking for a feel-good movie this isn’t it. If you’re looking for an intelligent, honest examination of what is going on in Israel, this is a must-see.

The Shin Bet (Shabak) is Israel’s internal security agency. The Gatekeepers features all six living former heads of the Shin Bet: Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter, and Yuval Diskin.

More after the jump.
The Wall Street Journal writes:

The Israeli journalist Dror Moreh has hit a documentarian’s trifecta with The Gatekeepers. It’s an exemplary piece of enterprise journalism, a vivid history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a polemic that’s all the more remarkable for the shared experience of the polemicists. They are six former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s secretive internal-security service, and, to a man, they deplore most of the political leaders who have shaped their nation’s turbulent history — not for being too weak, as one might expect to hear from these toughest of professional hard-liners, but for being too rigid, hypocritical or indifferent to negotiate with their Arab enemies.

Yet, as the New York Times notes:

While it is true that Mr. Peri and his colleagues generally favor the curtailment of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they are hardly doves or bleeding hearts. And their shared professional ethos of ruthless, unsentimental pragmatism is precisely what gives such force to their worries about the current state of Israeli politics.

The Times concludes:

It is guaranteed to trouble any one, left, right, center or head in the sand, with confidence or certainly in his or her own opinions. If you need reassurance or grounds for optimism about the Middle East, you will not find it here. What you will find is rare, welcome and almost unbearable clarity.

When people tell me that I should see a movie and decide for myself whether it is good or bad, fair or unbalanced, I usually take a pass. I haven’t got much time to waste on movies that might not be good or that advance a political agenda I may or not agree with. I’d rather read. But this movie is just too important not to see.

All six living former heads of the Shin Bet: No one can question their love of Israel, their devotion to Israel, or their knowledge. Something is not true simply because these six say it’s true. But it’s hard to imagine any other six people whose views we should take at least as seriously. You might not agree with them, but you can’t say the views they express are not pro-Israel. And yes, the film does accurately present their points of view: Carmi Gillon, one of the six, says:

The importance for me is the message the film gives to the Israeli public. The message is that occupation is bad for the future of Israeli society from all aspects — humanistic, economic, moral, etc. I can assure you that all six former heads and some 95% of my colleagues and workers from the Shin Bet from over three decades all agree with the overall conclusions of the film.

The movie is impossible to summarize and packs a lot of information into 95 minutes. Three of many key points are:

  1. Israel should talk with anyone about peace.
  2. The occupation is bad for Israel and will get worse for Israel the longer it continues.
  3. The only reason the Palestinian Authority cooperates with Israel on security matters is that they hope the result will be a state of their own. In other words, they are not cooperating to help Israel but to help themselves, and they may stop cooperating if they lose hope.

It occurred to me while listening to these former heads of the Shin Bet that if Chuck Hagel had said to the Senate Armed Services Committee what these six men say in this film, there’s no way he would be confirmed. Then on Friday I read this review, which lists the same quotes that struck me while watching the film.

If you want to cling to your illusions, I can recommend several supposedly pro-Israel groups right here (and I do mean “right”) who regularly feature speakers and programs designed to describe the world as we’d like it to be, not as it is. For them, Israel is the Israel that never was, the Israel of Paul Newman and Exodus, an Israel that doesn’t have to choose between retaining the West Bank and remaining a democracy because demographic facts to them are just myths. But we can’t effectively advocate for Israel if we divorce ourselves from reality. See The Gatekeepers and decide for yourself.

Martin Ben Moreh of the Reut Institute recommends “strongly that every Israeli and every Jew should see this film regardless of what their particular political views are.”

Let’s hope The Gatekeepers wins an Oscar tonight.

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