The Gatekeepers (2012) (Shom’ray Ha’Saf-Hebrew Title)
Dir: Dror Moreh
The Gatekeepers is an Oscar nominated and much awarded documentary that brings together six former heads of Shin Bet, Ami Ayalon, Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon,Avi Dichter and Yuval Diskin for a free ranging discussion. Shin Bet, better known as Shabak, is responsible for internal security of Israel and its head is one of the top decision makers in the government on security matters.Only he is known to the public by name and the rest of its members are nameless faceless men and women.This documentary is inspired by Fog of War featuring Robert MacNamara, talking about his insights as US Secretary of Defense.
I never thought that I would be captivated by six Israelis talking in Hebrew for 2 hours but all these six men talk with a candidness that is startling and completely engrossing.They sat at the decision making tables to which few journalists have access and knew how a continuos chain of Prime Ministers made the most difficult of decisions.They come across as hardened men whose sometimes brutal jobs gave them insights into the Palestinian problem that few have.For a layperson this documentary is an invaluable tool to gain an insight into the geopolitics of the Middle East and furthermore as a prism to look at the larger interconnected global picture.
In one remarkable segment Amy Ayalon recounts how the psychology of suicide bombers was laid bare to him in a meeting with a Palestinian delegation in Paris.He was told the Palestinians were finally winning when in fact the Israelis were completely crushing them.He was told the more we suffer the more you will loose.It is a philosophy that makes the looser the winner by placing the burden of the losers suffering on the conscience of the winner. Suicide bombings of the 9/11 type only push bigger powers into a corner by making them react in a disproportionate manner, ultimately causing grief to themselves as we have seen in the aftermath of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
This documentary is a very apt companion piece to Zero Dark Thirty which was a remarkable film with documentary elements and this one is a documentary with dramatic elements, the most striking being its editing to string out a story for the layperson from free flowing discussion with security agency bosses.In its own way this documentary also examines the role of bureaucrats and technocrats in the shaping of world events a case in point being the Radcliffe line which divides India and Pakistan. It was drawn by a bureaucrat with little local knowledge and announced after 15th August,1947 to avoid a carnage, which happened anyway.
This is also a commentary on democracy in an obtuse way, the varied actions of the different democratically elected Prime Ministers from Golda Meir to Netanyahu, all represent the will of the people only to an extent.The current government led by Netanyahu has been elected not on a Palestine denominated plank but an economic one.
It also introduces us to the men who are the Jewish counterparts of Islamic fundamentalists, they too have long beards and wear skull caps under which hang coiffured religio-chic locks of hair.Now does the US immigration folks separate them for random checks?Probably not.
Another interesting thing is that while all of them had differing notions about their job while they were at it they seem to have converged onto the same point of view, namely the perusal of the two state solution combined with never ending dialogue and cessation of the settlement building activity that seems to have permanently deadlocked the peace process.
In a way The Gatekeepers also makes one think about the Kashmir problem which has nuclear powers on both sides yet are as unequal in their overall power as Israel and Palestine.Perhaps India’s politicians are as much to blame as the Israelis for refusing to turn the consensus solution into reality, namely turning the LOC into the international boundary.The current generation of young Indians are completely unaware of the historical context of that problem and the legitimate concerns of the actual people involved. That one mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter, is something lost on most Indians, who only see Pakistan through the lens of propaganda.
The important question in this film is not the elusive political solution but the motivations behind the decision of these six men to face the camera.That Amy Ayalon became a minister in the government and a prominent left wing politician and persuaded the others to participate, must have played a role. So the whole film acquires a political taint, in the process becoming a voice of the Israeli left wing.This is a compromise I can live with.
As Obamas makes his maiden visit to Israel ( last time he skipped Israel while on his “apology tour”of the middle east) he has said, quite diplomatically, that he is more interested in listening to the parties than offering a solution. Perhaps as his inflight entertainment on Air Force One he could have benefitted from watching The Gatekeepers.This film is not just for people who are stakeholders in the Middle East conflict, but an invaluable resource for everybody.But come to think of it we are all stakeholders in that centuries old conflict.