The Secrets of ‘The Gatekeepers’

“The Gatekeepers,” a new documentary, records the views of the Israeli security officials most responsible for suppressing Palestinian resistance and their growing doubts about the strategy of endless repression. But even this criticism glosses over the depth of the problem, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

There is a new documentary movie about Israel called “The Gatekeepers,” directed by Dror Moreh and featuring interviews with all the former leaders of the Shin Bet, the country’s internal security organization.

The Shin Bet is assigned the job of preventing Palestinian retaliatory attacks on Israel and, as described by Moreh, the film “is the story of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories as told by the people at the crossroads of some of the most crucial moments in the security history of the country.” Along the way it touches on such particular topics as targeted assassinations, the use of torture, and “collateral damage.” 

“The Gatekeepers” has garnered a lot of acclaim, playing at film festivals in Jerusalem, Amsterdam, New York, Toronto, Venice and elsewhere. It has won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s Best Documentary Award. It has been nominated for an Oscar.

In order to promote “The Gatekeepers,” Moreh has been doing interviews and recently appeared on CNN with Christiana Amanpour. He made a number of salient points, as did the Shin Bet leaders in the clips featured during the interview.

–Moreh says, “if there is someone who understands the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s these guys,” the Shin Bet leaders. Actually, this not necessarily true. One might more accurately claim that these men, who led Israel’s most secretive government institution, were and are so deeply buried inside their country’s security dilemma that they see it in a distorted fashion (with only occasional glimmers of clarity).

For instance, Avraham Shalom, head of the Shin Bet from 1981-1986, tells us that “Israel lost touch with how to coexist with the Palestinians as far back as the aftermath of the Six Day War in 1967 … when the country started doubling down on terrorism.”

But is this really the case? One might more accurately assert that Israel had no touch to lose. Most of its Jewish population and leadership have never had an interest in coexistence with Palestinians in any egalitarian and humane sense of the term. The interviewed security chiefs focus on the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza because they are the ones who offered the most resistance to conquest. But what of the 20 percent of the population of Israel who are also Palestinian and who actually lived under martial law until 1966? You may call the discriminatory regime under which these people live “coexistence,” but it is the coexistence of superior over the inferior secured largely by intimidation.

–Moreh insists that it is the “Jewish extremists inside Israel” who have been the “major impediment” to resolving issues between Israel and the Palestinians. The film looks at the cabal of religious fanatics who, in 1980, planned to blow up the Muslim shrine of the Dome of the Rock on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, as well as the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Yet, as dangerous as Israel’s right-wing extremists and settler fanatics are, focusing exclusively on them obscures the full history of the occupation.

By 1977, when Menachem Begin and Israel’s right-wing fanatics fully took power, the process of occupation and ethnic cleansing was well under way. It had been conducted against both the Arab Israelis from 1948 onward, and against the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza after 1967. In both cases, it was initiated by the so-called Israeli Left: the Labor Party led by such people as David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin himself. Amongst the Israeli leadership, there were no clean hands.

–Finally, Dror Moreh repeatedly pushes another message: “a central theme of the documentary is the idea that Israel has incredible tactics, but it lacks long-term strategy … if [security] operations do not support a move toward a peace settlement, then they are meaningless.”

Again, this assessment reflects Moreh being so deeply situated inside of the problem that he cannot perceive it clearly. Moreh assumes that achieving peace with the Palestinians is the only “long-term strategy” Israel could possibly have and, in its absence, Israel pursues no strategy at all.

However, an objective assessment of Israeli history tells us that there has been another strategy in place. The Zionist leaders have, in fact, always had a long-term strategy to avoid any meaningful peace settlement, so as to allow: 1. occupation of all “Eretz Israel,” 2. the ethnic cleansing or cantonization of the native population, and 3. settlement of the cleansed territory with Jews.

It is because of this same naivete that Moreh confesses himself “shocked” when Avraham Shalom compares the occupation of the Palestinian territories to “Germany’s occupation of Europe.” It is to Shalom’s credit that he made the statement on camera, and to Morah’s credit that he kept the statement in the final version of the film. But then Moreh spoils this act of bravery when he tells Amanpour: “Only Jews can say these kind of words. And only they can have the justification to speak as they spoke in the film.”

Well, I can think of one other group of people who has every right to make the same comparison Shalom makes – the Palestinians.

Retired Official’s Confession Syndrome 

For all its shortcomings, the film is a step forward in the ongoing effort to deny the idealized Zionist storyline a monopoly in the West. Indeed, that “The Gatekeepers” was made at all, and was received so positively at major film venues, is a sign that this skewed Israeli storyline is finally breaking down. Certainly, this deconstruction still has a long way to go, but the process is picking up speed.

On the other hand, there is something troubling about the belated nature of the insights given in these interviews.  They are examples of what I like to call the “retired official’s confession syndrome.” Quite often those who, in retirement, make these sorts of confessions were well aware of the muddled or murderous situation while in office. But, apparently, they lacked the courage to publicize it at the time. It would have meant risking their careers, their popularity, and perhaps relations with their friends and family.

One is reminded of the fate of Professor Ilan Pappe, who has stood up and lived his principles, and eventually lost his position at Haifa University and was, in the end, forced into exile. For most, however, including these leaders of the Shin Bet, their understanding was clouded and their actions skewed by a time-honored, but deeply flawed, notion of “duty” to carry on like good soldiers.

To date, Israel’s leaders and Zionist supporters have shown an amazing capacity to ignore all criticism. The newly re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has let it be known that he has no intention of watching “The Gatekeepers.” It is also questionable how many of those who voted for him, or other right-wing politicians, will bother to seek the documentary out.

Israel’s government has recently made the decision to ignore the country’s obligations under the United Nations Human Rights Charter, a decision signaled by its representatives refusal to show up for the country’s “universal periodic review” before the Human Rights Council. Nor is there any sign that any new right-wing led government coalition will stop the ethnic cleansing and illegal colonial repopulation of East Jerusalem.

The only reasonable conclusion one can come to is that it will take increasing outside pressure on Israel, in the form of boycotts, divestment and sanctions, to convince a sufficient number of that country’s Jewish population that they must change their ways. To not change is to acquiesce in Israel’s evolving status as a pariah state.

The irony of it all is that that status will have little to do with most of Israel being Jewish (that is, it will not be a function of anti-Semitism). Yet, it will have everything to do with the fact that, in this day and age, not even the Jews, who have been subjected to some of history’s worst acts of racism, have the right to maintain a racist state.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

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9 comments on “The Secrets of ‘The Gatekeepers’

  1. Rehmat on said:

    The six Zionazis are trying to make the world believe that the Zionist Jews do have some moral conscience – atleast some of them. However, Israeli-born Gilad Atzmon who was part of Israeli invaders of Lebanon during 1980s, says that Zionist Jews have no moral conscienous – they are all driven by “Jewish tribal hatred” towards non-Jews.

    Shin Bet whose motto is “Defender that shall not be seen“, was created by the first Zionist prime minister David Ben Gurion on February 8, 1949. Shit Bet is known for recruiting extremist Jewish settlers to assassinate Palestinian leaders, bomb mosques and start religious riots by shooting at Muslim and Christian natives. In 2010, Chaim Pearlman, a Jewish settler was arrested by Shin Bet for murdering four Palestinian civilians. He confessed on a private video that he was hired to to execute Sheikh Raed Salah, a leader of the Islamic Movement and a participant in the aid flotilla to Gaza that was attacked by Jewish commandos.

    http://rehmat1.com/2013/01/06/the-jewish-gatekeepers-an-israeli-confession/

  2. Hillary on said:

    Entire Zionist history is based on myths,hoaxes and character assassination of its real and imaginary foes.
    .
    New York Governor Martin Glynn’s myth of “Six Million Died” in October 31, 1919 issue of “The American Hebrew” , yes 1919.
    .
    IN THEIR OWN WORDS……
    “Erect a Jewish State at once, even if it is not in the whole of the land [of Palestine]. The rest will come in the course of time. It must come.: ”
    Ben Gurion accepting Lord Peel’s Commission recommending, in 1936, that Palestine be partitioned
    .
    “No return to the 1967 borders. No discussion on the Permanent Status [of a Palestinian State]. No withdrawal from the Jordan Valley. No negotiations with the PLO. No to a Palestinian State”
    :Yitzhak Rabin. Israeli Prime Minister – 1993

  3. Although the usual posters advocating Israel’s destruction are having a love in about this film, they miss the fact that Israel is a democracy and the film is certainly allowed to be shown. Contrast this with iran, Egypt, and other theocratic arab states. No opposing points of view are allowed.

    The film’s press materials claim that “for the first time ever,” the former Shin Bet heads are sharing their insights publicly, and Moreh says he was “startled” they agreed to talk to him. But in fact they have spoken publicly before — in a two-hour joint interview in 2003, published at the time in Israel’s largest newspaper, Yedioth Aharonoth, in which the “gatekeepers” expressed the same conclusions.

    The 2003 interview was instrumental in influencing Ariel Sharon to withdraw from Gaza — with results different from those confidently predicted at the time. But the 2003 interview goes unmentioned and unaddressed in the The Gatekeepers.

    As a result, while the film raises important questions, it also withholds important information needed to answer them. The film uses allegedly “first time ever” interviews to push the same points that were pushed back in 2003 by the same people, which produced disastrous results. A better film would have explored why things failed then, and why they have failed since, rather than simply push the same points again as if they had not already been given a real-life test.

    • Rehmat on said:

      “Israel is a democracy!!” – Only when the pigs fly, says famed Israeli columnist, Gideon Levy.

      “What sort of democracy is this, if exactly half the state’s residents don’t benefit from it? Indeed, can the term “democratic” be applied to a state in which many of the residents live under a military regime or are deprived of civil rights? Can there be democracy without equality, with a lengthy occupation and with foreign workers who have no rights? And what about the racism?,” wrote Gideon.

      “On the day after tomorrow, when tanks guard the voters in Yitzhar and other West Bank settlements, when curfew protects the election process in the Jewish settlement in Hebron, when thousands of soldiers will defend the roads on which the polling stations will be transported and when foreign workers with no rights will sweep our streets, we should remember that this is half a democracy, no more,” Gideon concluded in Israeli daily Ha’aretz, March 2011.

      http://rehmat1.com/2011/03/08/gideon-levi-israel-is-half-a-democracy/

      • Gideon Levy is one of Ha’aretz’s most anti Israel reporters. Since Israel is a democracy, his outrageous pronouncements are published. If this occurred in iran he’d be executed. There is no democracy in the middle east except Israel. Democracies are imperfect, yet no mention is ever made of the medieval totalitarism that exists in places like Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc.

  4. Otto Schiff on said:

    It is interesting that among all the comments about Israel,
    there is no representation if any israely opinion.

    • tedbohne on said:

      first the word is Israeli. second, if you’ve missed the “words” of the israelis, then you are deaf. spying on the US. a probable partner with the US in 911. you must be a jew.

  5. andreas w. mytze on said:

    not sure if borat is right about levy who is one of the best and brightest in the holy land (nothing “outrageous”)….
    have you heard of uri blau ([ex?]haaretz)? so much for press freedom in israel….
    by the way you might be interested in barry chamish’s new book:
    the Stinger Not The Stung: Israel’s Not So Civil War….(but, please, burn after reading….)

    • Show me any scintilla of free press, freedom of expression in any arab country that isn’t quashed. The so called Arab Spring has yet to show anything of that which I just described.