The Gatekeepers | Movie review
Dror Moreh’s Oscar-nominated documentary quietly spans the modern history of Israel.
The presentation—talking heads and archival footage—may seem simple, but Dror Moreh’s Oscar-nominated documentary The Gatekeepers quietly spans the modern history of Israel, exploring the conscience of a nation through the revelations of a group of wavering hard-liners. Interviewing six former heads of the intelligence agency Shin Bet (their tenures span from 1980 to the near present), the movie finds its normally tight-lipped subjects opening up about the shades of gray involved in covert ops.
“With terrorism there are no morals,” says Avraham Shalom, head of the agency from 1980 to 1986. “Find morals in the terrorists first.” But the film seeks to complicate that notion, whether it’s through Shalom’s own suggestion that Palestinian terrorism made for a useful distraction from dealing with the creation of a Palestinian state to the fallout of failed operations to the growth of Israeli-based extremism. What we hear resonates with the torture debate stateside; Ami Ayalon, who headed the organization in the wake of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, suggests some of the most valuable help came not from extra-legal activity but comparing notes with Palestinian authorities, eager to squelch violence so long as a second state seemed plausible.
Ranging from still-bulky militant types to central-casting Jewish grandfathers, all of the interviewees cut striking camera presences as they grapple with their successes and failures. “When you retire, you become a bit of a leftist,” says 1988–94 bureau chief Yaakov Peri. There’s a sense of perspective here missing from current headlines.