Magazine article Metro Magazine

Holding Your Peace: Dror Moreh's the Gatekeepers

Magazine article Metro Magazine

Holding Your Peace: Dror Moreh's the Gatekeepers

Article excerpt

THE CONFLICT BETWEEN ISRAEL AND PALESTINE CONTINUES TO RAGE, AND OVER THE YEARS BOTH SIDES HAVE COMMITTED QUESTIONABLE ACTS IN THE NAME OF BOTH LAND AND LORD. JASMINE CRITTENDEN EXPLORES THE CONTROVERSAL DOCUMENTARY THAT EXPOSES THE ISRAELI SIDE OF THE DISPUTE OVER THE HOLY LAND.

Every now and again, a documentary carries us into territory we believed impenetrable. Whether it's a familial landscape, as in Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell (2012), or a psycho-political minefield, as in Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing (2012), we travel, compelled by that combination of anticipation and fear that is the trespasser's drug.

It's the 'Is the camera really going there?' quality that made The Gatekeepers (2012) the smash hit of Australia Israel Cultural Exchange's tenth Israeli Film Festival. Director Dror Moreh persuaded six former leaders of the Israel Security Agency--the Shin Bet, as it's locally known--to discuss their work on moral, political and historical grounds. It's not just their agreement to participate, but also the frankness with which they speak, that astounds. The documentary has gone on to become Israel's third-highest-grossing film of all time, the most-watched documentary in the history of the Israeli film industry and a 2012 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary. (1) An extended version, in the form of a five-part television miniseries, has also been released.

In explaining the film's success, Keith Lawrence, co-curator of the Israeli Film Festival, tells me:

How often do you get the opportunity to watch a movie in which ex-heads of the internal security organisation are openly talking about policies and strategies they put into place that have such massive ramifications, in terms of what's happening today? It's very open; it's very upfront.

From the opening shots, we find ourselves on the security front-line. Wispy clouds drift apart, revealing that we are on an aerial 'terrorist hunt' conducted remotely. Via the menacing crosshairs of drone footage, we track a vehicle passing through a densely populated urban area. It feels like we've been sucked into some kind of sick video game. Ex-CIA lawyer Vicki Divoll's observations come to mind: 'People are a lot more comfortable with a Predator strike that kills many people than with a throat-slitting that kills one [... but] mechanized killing is still killing.' (2) A voiceover begins.

It is Yuval Diskin, Shin Bet director from 2005 to 2011:

As head of the Shin Bet, you learn that politicians prefer binary options [...] They want you to tell them: zero or one. Do it I don't do it. As a commander, I find myself in situations that are shades of grey. Let's say you're hunting a terrorist. You can get him, but there are one or two people in the car. You're not sure if they're part of his gang or not. What do you do? Do you fire or not?

As the vehicle bursts into flames, implying the possible murder of innocents, we know that Moreh is ready to address some difficult questions. With the 1967 Six-Day War and Israel's subsequent occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as its starting point, his history of the Shin Bet follows a roughly chronological structure. Headline-grabbing events -the Bus 300 affair, Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, the First and Second Intifadas--interweave with details of covert daily operations. We hear of advising the prime minister, interrogating suspects and conducting targeted assassinations. 'There's something unnatural about it,' Diskin reflects. 'What's unnatural is the power you have to take three people, terrorists, and take their lives in an instant.'

What also seems 'unnatural' is the subjects' willingness to talk. Along with Diskin, earlier Shin Bet directors Avraham Shalom Ben-Dor (1981-1986), Avi Dichter (2000-2005), Carmi Gillon (1995-1996), Ami Ayalon (1996-2000) and Yaakov Peri (1988-1994) shared 120 hours of conversation with Moreh in total. (3) The question of why six such powerful men have come forward so candidly has plagued journalists all over the world. …

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