Shin Bet is Israel’s secret service particularly charged with anti-terrorism responsibilities. It functions alongside two other intelligence services, the Aman (military) and Mossad (foreign), and its head answers directly to Israel’s Prime Minister. In this documentary, six former heads of the service report on their tenures in Shin Bet and their current views, which take into account insights they gained along the way, and are based upon their experiences in encounters with terrorists, their families, politicians, peacemakers, and government and military officials. Their spans of service extended from 1981 to 2005, during which time, significant events occurred, such as the Kav Affair, the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and the al-Aqsa Intifada. The Kav Affair involved terrorists hi-jacking a bus. The perpetrators were captured, but were tortured and killed without a trial, giving Shin Bet a black mark. The al-Aqsa Intifada was the second Palestinian uprising against the Israelis, lasting five years and resulting in the deaths of over 4,000 on both sides, as well as some foreigners.
In 2003, four of the six men in the documentary called upon the Israeli government to enter into talks with the Palestinians and come up with a peace agreement. One related how he was taken aback when a Palestinian friend pointed out to him that the Palestinians had achieved a victory because “we have made you suffer” [just as we have]. Another observed that “Peace must be built on a system of trust”, not through military confrontations. He notes that after they bombed the house of a terrorist, the collateral damage from killing innocent people, as well as the backlash that ensued, simply gained them more terrorists to deal with. Much of their emphasis is on the critical need for enemies to talk together and see their commonalities, as opposed to simply getting riled up and taking military action. The film ends with the observation that the Israelis could possibly win every battle, but lose the war, unless they pursue a peace treaty.
The Gatekeepers sheds some light on the recent history of Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, and is especially remarkable in airing second thoughts and regrets of the former Shin Bet heads about their terms of service. This documentary would be instructive for all, but especially for young people who are political activists, to hear their perspectives. The film well deserves its nomination for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.
Grade: A By: Donna R. Copeland