Movie Review: The Gatekeepers
By Matthew Huntley
January 17, 2013
One of Shalom's notable achievements was thwarting a group known as the “Jewish Underground,” who plotted to blow up the Dome of the Rock - the Islamic shrine built atop a Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Shalom’s discovery of the attack likely prevented an avalanche of Arab violence and uproar. Less popular, however, was his ordering of the execution of two surrendered terrorists who hijacked the 300 bus on its way from Tel Aviv to Ashkelon. Even today, he remains dour about the incident, despite having the support of Prime Minister Yizhak Shamir and Shimon Peres.
Shalom’s successor, Yaakov Peri (1988-1995), would go on to face an Intifada, which, at the time, was unheard of in Israel. He also faced criticism for Shin Bet’s interrogation practices at their facility in Gaza City. Similar censorship came to Carmi Gillon (1994-1996), who previously served as head of Shin Bet’s Northern Command. He specialized in Jewish terrorism, designing a surveillance system that monitored Israelis capable of carrying out deadly attacks. Peri long argued that Jewish extremists would one day attempt to assassinate Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a plan that turned out to be true and unfortunately successful in November of 1995.
Though Gillon would find brief redemption with the assassination of Yahya Ayyash, a Palestinian terrorist nicknamed “The Engineer,” he never forgave himself for Rabin’s death. It naturally led to an increase in security for Israel’s leaders and it was Ami Ayalon’s (1996-2000) job to enforce it. Lean, outspoken and brutally direct, Ayalon was one of the most left-winged members of Shin Bet. Even today, he vehemently criticizes Israel’s prime ministers for not being more proactive toward peaceful resolutions, suggesting that as long as support of violent actions continues, Israel may win battles, but they’ll never win the war. It’d be interesting to see Ayalon go head-to-head with Avi Dichter (2000-2005), who, after a long military career, still defends targeted assassinations and preemptive attacks. One must figure the extreme violence of the Second Intifada that Dichter faced played a large part in shaping his stern and forceful perspective.
Although Moreh lets these men talk freely and openly, he’s not afraid to question their methods or put them on the spot. He presents the film like a classic argumentative essay. And while his message with The Gatekeepers is obvious and straightforward, especially to those who agree with it - that discourse and dialogue should always come before violence - it’s still essential and must be heard, because it’s not necessarily obvious to those in charge of implementing and maintaining peace. Functionally-speaking, The Gatekeepers reminds us violence should, ideally, never be considered a resolution to a problem.
But the film goes beyond its serviceable value because Moreh also allows us to see these men as human beings. It would have been easy to simply blame them and suggest they were part of the problem, but Moreh isn’t out to chastise them. Rather, he wants us to empathize and realize just how dangerous and overwhelming their tasks must have been. Underneath the history, facts and statistics, The Gatekeepers is a human story about how we’re all fragile and susceptible to emotions and regrets based on our previous actions. We realize this through the men’s solemn voices and expressions, which leads to a somewhat hopeful conclusion: If those in similar or greater positions of power truly listen to and understand what these six men are saying, it’s possible that the testimonies of future Shin Bet heads could be different and more positive.
Moreh has said he wants The Gatekeepers to promote talk, and now that we’ve heard from members of Shin Bet, I’d like to hear from their Palestinian counterparts. After all, Palestinians are humans too, and I’m willing to bet their testimonies and ideas for peace would mirror the Israelis’.