Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Gatekeepers [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  Chicago Sun-Times (4 Stars)  AV Club (A-)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
Chicago Sun-Times (Omer M. Mozzaffar) review
AV Club (S. Tobias) review

The Gatekeepers [IMDb] (directed by Dror Moreh) is a remarkable Israeli documentary featuring interviews with the last six heads of Israel's security service Shin Bet.  It is inspired by Errol Morris' 2003 Academy Award winning documentary The Fog of War [IMDb], which featured interviews with Vietnam War era U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara.

Documentaries of this sort inevitably elicit concerns about the intentions of the film-makers and their subjects.  Is the documentary presented intended to be a hatchet job?  Alternatively, is it intended to be a "puff piece" exercise in apologetics, something akin to showing 'Pinochet eating flan with his grand-kids,' admitting perhaps that "mistakes were made" (What's a few 10,000 mothers and fathers, sons and daughters tortured and disappeared over 10+ years of dictatorship?) but if  such "mistakes were made," they were done "only for them..." (with a shot showing grandson 'Ricardo' kicking around a soccer ball and/or 'little Isabelita' chasing bubbles in the garden...).

Certainly more than a few Palestinians will be throwing their shoes at their television sets if the documentary gets shown in the Palestinian territories.  In probably the most difficult scenes to watch, one of the former heads of Shin Bet admitted that probably the worst part of a notorious incident in which the Israeli army / Shin Bet summarily killed two of four Palestinian terrorists who hijacked a bus (the Kav 300 affair) was that there were "(Israeli) journalists present who photographed the whole thing."  And in another scene, another of the former heads of Shin Bet explained that a Palestinian incarcerated by Shin Bet had died of basically an adult version of "Shaken Baby Syndrome" (According to the explanation given, the prisoner was "shaken around" by Israeli interrogators so much that his brain hit his own skull causing a concussion and subsequently his death.  Yea, right ... nobody in the United States would believe that kind of an explanation if someone died in police custody here.  Still since 9/11 we've been calling torture "enhanced interrogation techniques" as well...).

Still, the former heads of Shin Bet did come across as thoughtful intelligent people, all patriots but open basically a group of intelligent/pragmatic/"good soldier" Canaris-es rather than ideological/dogmatic (and ultimately Evil) Heydrich-s.  All six former heads agreed that Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories since the 1967 Six Day War has been brutal.  One former head noted that the Shoah/ Holocaust notwithstanding ("that was a necessarily special case") that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories since the Six Day War was akin to the Nazi occupations of most of the countries of Europe during World War II. Another noted that "every colonial regime inevitably becomes corrupt" and agreed "absolutely" with an Israeli professor who had predicted shortly after the Six Day War that continued occupation will result in Israel not having any partner to work with other than a group of corrupted Quislings who will never have the respect of their own people.

So what's the solution?  Well, actually documentary offers two.  One, is to talk, talk with everybody.  One of the former heads of Shin Bet said that he'd happily talk to everybody, including Ahmadinejad, noting that nothing is gained by not talking and that it's the informal conversations, with those kids and grand kids present, perhaps playing in the background, that help enemies to see each other's humanity.   The other approach is more pragmatic but one that apparently was used by Yitzhak Rabin's administration, the last time that the peace process had a chance: "Continue with the Peace Process as if there is no Terror, while going after the Terrorists as if there is no Peace Process."

All in all, I do think that this was a documentary that was worth making, and, who knows, could actually further a serious peace process in the future.

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