Last week, I watched the current documentary film “The Gatekeepers.” It is an impressive, powerful movie about the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it tells that story by focusing on the Shin Bet, Israel’s version of our FBI (and also partly analogous to our CIA).
The film’s fairness and sensitivities are remarkable and judicious. The conflict has become a complicated, much-debated marathon — full of rights and wrongs and accusations and blames — yet the movie succeeds well in illuminating and explaining the war’s history and present without parceling out responsibilities or declaring verdicts. It is left to the moviegoer to weigh the past and to consider what could — or should — occur next.
The heart of the film consists of incredibly frank and reflective testimony by six former directors of the Shin Bet. These are the men who have had to look closely at the consequences — on both Israeli and Palestinian lives — of violence, reprisal, terrorism, and political action and inaction.
Carmi Gillon, director from 1994 to 1996, describes how close he got to many Palestinians. In efforts to recruit Palestinian informers, and in efforts to understand Palestinian lives, he learned that they are no different from him. The vast majority of them want to live in their villages, be mothers and fathers, tend to their land or jobs, care for their olive trees, and live in quiet and routine.
He says that they are ordinary, their families are like yours and they are trying — despite all — to just live their lives. As he says this, his voice is full of sorrow and regret — aware of how easily he could live peacefully next to these people.
Avraham Shalom, director from 1981 to 1986, discusses the difficulty of considering morality in the context of fighting terrorism. The Shin Bet is responsible for providing safety to Israeli society and for thwarting Palestinian terror attacks. It often uses its intelligence to identify and kill suicide bombers before they have a chance to act.