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February 17, 2013

The Gatekeepers – An Analysis

Professor Lawrence Davidson

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There is a new documentary movie about Israel, called The Gatekeepers. It is directed by Dror Moreh, and features 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."

It has received critical acclaim from critics and won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s Best Documentary Award. It has been nominated for an Oscar.   

Part II — The Messages

In order to promote The Gatekeepers, Morah has been doing interviews and recently appeared on CNN with Christiane Amanpour.  He made a number of points, as did the Shin Bet leaders in the clips featured during the interview.  I shall review and critique some of these below.

– Moreh says that “if there is someone who understands the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s these guys” (the Shin Bet leaders).  Actually, this is 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:

– 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.” 

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 naiveté that Moreh confesses himself “shocked” when Shalom compares the occupation of the Palestinian territories to “Germany’s occupation of Europe” which, of course, had its own goal of ethnic cleansing.  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 Morah spoils this act of bravery when he tells Amanpour, “Only Jews can say these kinds 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 who has every right to make the same comparison Shalom makes– the Palestinians. 

Part III — The Retired Official’s Confession Syndrome

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 did stand up and live 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.

Part IV – Conclusion 

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 their being Jewish.  Yet, It will have everything to do with the fact that, in this day and age, even the Jews have no right to maintain a racist state.

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