Laremy Legel January 29, 2013
“The Gatekeepers” considers one of the most pressing global problems of the last 50 years: The Israeli – Palestinian conflict. Waged across decades, with chaos and violence ending up the prime winners, there haven’t been any permanent fixes to the tumult. Many are familiar with the issue, the apparent intractability of each side, the “no compromise” view that each group (and sub-group) generally advocates. Thankfully, “The Gatekeepers” is not another re-telling of the main issues; instead it’s a look at the complexity of the region through the eyes of the covert and powerful, the very men who were on the front lines deciding life and death on a daily basis.
Shin Bet , the secretive Israeli security force, is responsible for acting as a liaison with other foreign intelligence agencies, counter-terrorism, and high-value target protection. They seem to be a combination of The U.S. Secret Service and Homeland Security, mixed in with a healthy dose of lethal drone and spec ops capabilities. To give you some idea of the shadowy nature of Shin Bet, their motto is “defender that shall not be seen”. Getting the men who ran Shin Bet to talk about their work would seem to be impossible, the very antithesis of what the organization stands for. Which turns director Dror Moreh somehow compelling six former heads of Shin Bet to talk honestly about their failures, successes, and current political views into a grand achievement. This is a take on the conflict from a side we’ve never heard from; it’s easy to understand why we haven’t once you comprehend the horror inflicted on both parties by the people in charge.
Throughout the 97-minute running time, “The Gatekeepers” doesn’t shy away from the awful moral choices facing Shin Bet. Hard questions are asked, and the interviewees don’t flinch in their answers. They did what they felt was right for the State of Israel, even if it wasn’t particularly clean or moral. Dead innocents are roundly considered, as are the Jewish groups who were even farther to the right of the government, groups who often took revenge into their own hands, leaving Shin Bet to occasionally protect the State of Israel from itself. Layer upon layer of revenge piles up, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad replacing The PLO on the Palestinian side, while various Israeli Prime Minsters generally come to the same conclusion where peace talks are concerned. The Oslo Accords seem to provide respite, for a good ten seconds, until the war rages on unabated through the ’90s, 2000s, and today.
One of the most impressive features of “The Gatekeepers” is the use of CGI. Documentaries are generally rudimentary with their graphics, whereas this pivots between “60 Minutes” style interviews augmented with a CNN level presentation, full of smooth transitions and fluid imagery. It’s an extremely effective method in that it all at once conveys both the human element and the complex intelligence apparatus it is considering. It’s a strange realization, but smooth and competent transition scenes really help “the Gatekeepers”. It’s easy to engage in a documentary that feels this well conceived, as opposed to the normal unsophisticated, yet intimate, method.
There are many films that rail against the inherent injustices of any given power structure. Much rarer are the documentaries like “The Gatekeepers” which expose that the faithful stewards of a certain foreign policy no longer believe in said policy. This is an important film, showing the constant reaction and counter-reaction of each side. One of the former Shin Bet heads decries that we live in a world where a “punk kid with a gun that could barely shoot” derailed the whole peace process – but it’s probably just as important that we live in a world where a film like “The Gatekeepers” exists.
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