On Talk­ing to Is­rael’s Se­cret Po­lice

Forward Magazine - - News -

‘The Gate­keep­ers,” an ex­plo­sive new doc­u­men­tary by Is­raeli film­maker Dror Moreh, won’t go into wide re­lease un­til early 2013, but it has al­ready re­ceived rave re­views at some of the world’s most pres­ti­gious film fes­ti­vals, most re­cently in New York and Toronto, and in Tel­luride, Colo. The unique power of Moreh’s film de­rives less from its sub­ject mat­ter — Is­raeli po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary his­tory — than from the di­rec­tor’s un­prece­dented ac­cess to his sub­jects, all of whom have served as chiefs of Is­rael’s se­cret po­lice, known in He­brew as Shabak and in English as Shin Bet.

Tall and dark-haired, 51-yearold Moreh stands with the con­sciously straight pos­ture of a man ac­cus­tomed to car­ry­ing heavy equip­ment (he be­gan his ca­reer as a cam­era­man). He met with the For­ward’s Sheerly Avni for cof­fee in Tel­luride, in a cafe di­rectly across the street from the theater at which he had just re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion, and ex­plained why his joy over the film’s en­thu­si­as­tic re­cep­tion con­tin­ues to take a back seat to fears for his coun­try’s fu­ture. SHEERLY AVNI: What in­spired you to make this film? DROR MOREH: Like many Is­raelis, I feel very bleak about our cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. I have fam­ily and chil­dren in Is­rael, and I am ter­ri­fied. So I wanted to make a film that would ask hard ques­tions about where we are headed. I wanted this to be a movie that no one could ar­gue with, where no one could say, “These peo­ple don’t know what they are talk­ing about,” or it’s “their bias,” or, “It’s just one opin­ion.” So I knew that I needed not just one for­mer chief of the Shin Bet, but all of them. Ev­ery sin­gle man would need to agree to speak with me. One of your film’s many stun­ning mo­ments is when Ami Ayalon draws an anal­ogy be­tween Is­rael’s re­la­tion­ship to the Oc­cu­pied Ter­ri­to­ries and the Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion of Poland. This is the kind of lan­guage we would ex­pect from some­one like film­maker Udi Aloni, not from a for­mer head of the se­cret po­lice. I don’t like the Udi Aloni per­spec­tive, be­cause in my point of view he is a pro­fes­sional dem­a­gogue — not con­nected to re­al­ity. But it’s dif­fer­ent with some­one like Ami Ayalon, be­cause he car­ries the author­ity of di­rect ex­pe­ri­ence. Do you think he and some of the other men you spoke with are wor­ried about their his­tor­i­cal lega­cies? I think these men are gen­uinely con­cerned for the fu­ture of the na­tion. In a part of the in­ter­view that I had to cut from the movie but hope to keep for tele­vi­sion, [Avra­ham] Shalom said some­thing else that I think is very im­por­tant. “We paid a hor­ri­ble price,” he said, “for our mil­i­tary suc­cesses. We are iso­lated com­pletely from our neigh­bors, we can­not go any­where, we are a thorn in the side of the re­gion.” Sev­eral of the men fea­tured in “The Gate­keep­ers” seem to think the real threat is not from with­out but from within — from Is­rael’s reli­gious right. Look how [Yitzhak] Rabin was killed! The rab­bis who were in­cit­ing vi­o­lence against Rabin were never pros­e­cuted for what they did. As Carmi Gil­lon says in the film, the Supreme Court never wanted to ad­dress the rhetoric of ha­tred, be­cause of free­dom of speech. But words can kill. What does this de­mo­graphic shift mean for the pos­si­bil­ity of a twostate so­lu­tion? A two-state so­lu­tion ba­si­cally means that Is­rael would take out all the set­tle­ments in the West Bank. But the reli­gious right are too pow­er­ful. They are well armed, they are de­ter­mined and they have the ide­o­log­i­cal sup­port of the rab­bis. Try­ing to re­move the set­tle­ments would start a civil war. And this is why I be­lieve Abra­ham Lin­coln was the great­est Amer­i­can pres­i­dent, be­cause some­times it’s nec­es­sary for the peo­ple to say “enough.” You don’t think Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu could be an­other Lin­coln? (Laughs) No. But be­lieve it or not, he does like to com­pare him­self with Win­ston Churchill.

There must be some light at the end of the tun­nel.

One thing that did give me some hope was af­ter a screening of the film in Is­rael. There were amaz­ing re­ac­tions from the au­di­ences. Af­ter the first screening, three set­tlers — with kipas on their heads, you know — they ap­proached me and said: “Dror, we have never been con­fronted with such a thing. And we re­ally have a lot of things to think about.”

COUR­TESY OF DONNA DANIELS PUB­LIC RE­LA­TIONS

In­ves­ti­ga­tor: Dror Moreh’s new film fea­tures in­ter­views with six top mem­bers of the Shin Bet, Is­rael’s se­cret po­lice, who divulge ex­plo­sive in­for­ma­tion about Is­rael’s se­cu­rity and the peace process with the Pales­tini­ans.

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