The six living former heads of Shin Bet, who successively ruled the ultrasecretive Israeli domestic intelligence agency from 1980 through 2011, sit down in front of a camera and spill the beans in The Gatekeepers. Not all the beans, of course, but men such as these men don’t do this, and these particular men have never spoken out before. The things they have to say will surprise you, and may shock you.
These are the secretive bureaucrats, you see, who have been in charge of policing the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank since the 1967 Six Day War and monitoring the security of cities such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem from those who would very much like Israel to end that occupation. So they’ve dealt with Palestinians who take hostages and blow up buses, and those who would like to… but also with extra-far-right Jewish radicals for whom no peace with Arab Muslims is possible.
Whatever you know — or think you know — about the mess that is the Middle East and Israel’s role in that mess may well be challenged or even completely overturned by listening to these men talk about their work: about how politicians want black-and-white options while intelligence operates in shades of gray; about the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter; about the possibilities of change and who is thwarting an achievable peace. What they have to say about “ticking bomb” scenarios and “intense interrogation” and the systematic construction of what looks uncomfortably like a police state — one of these men dares to make the comparison with Nazi Germany — resonate far beyond their own regional “War on Terror.”
It’s with good reason that the startling conversations collected here by Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh were nominated for a 2013 Oscar for Best Documentary: what looks at first to be a dry talking-head record of a slice of history for a small part of the planet becomes a trenchant commentary on human politics and prejudice but also, thankfully, hope for a better, more progressive future. This is a fascinating film offering a startling look inside one of the most tightlipped intelligence agencies on the planet.