‘The Gatekeepers’: Israel’s Staunchest Defenders Offer a Prescription for Peace

Director Dror Moreh reveals that his Oscar-nominated documentary is intended as a mirror that just might show a way to reconciliation.

From left to right, six former chiefs of Shin Bet—Avraham Shalom, Ami Ayalon, Yaakov Peri, Yuval Diskin, Avi Dichter, Carmi Gillon—come together for an unprecedented look at Israel’s history in The Gatekeepers. (Photo: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

Jan 30, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Stephen Saito writes about movies for the L.A. Times, IFC.com and his own site, The Moveable Fest.

Dror Moreh was in the midst of his previous film, 2008’s Sharon, a documentary about former Israeli general-turned-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, when Sharon’s former chief of staff supplied him with a fascinating piece of information.

When Sharon was considering disengagement from the Gaza Strip in the mid-2000s, a leading Israeli newspaper had published a story quoting four former chiefs of Israel’s internal intelligence agency, Shin Bet, warning against the type of military buildup that had been Sharon’s life’s work, suggesting it would lead to catastrophe. According to the aide, Sharon’s decision to reverse course on maintaining 17 Israeli settlements in the region was directly influenced by the article.

“When I heard that for the first time, I said, well, if that article moved Sharon, then if I do a movie talking to these [Shin Bet] guys for the first time, letting them speak and expressing their point of view of the conflict, it will probably have a similar impact,” Moreh tells TakePart.

Nearly half a decade after that conversation took place, Moreh has finished The Gatekeepers, a film that takes the unprecedented step of gathering six former chiefs of Shin Bet on camera to give their unique perspective on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Having seen firsthand the devastating toll that violence from both the outside and within has taken on the State of Israel—the 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a religious zealot is cited as derailing one of the best chances for peace—the six men recount their experiences protecting the vulnerable state, a task that, to hear them tell it, is increasingly compromised by leaders who refuse to compromise.

“What I tried to create is a mirror in front of the Israeli society,” says Moreh. “To put a mirror in front of every Israeli that comes from the people who are most responsible for maintaining that conflict, for fighting the conflict, for fighting terror, who understand it better than anybody else what the conflict means and what are the means to solve it or if it’s possible to solve it.”

The prize of peace may seem a long way off, but The Gatekeepers is competing for another prize as a nominee for Best Documentary at this year’s Academy Awards. Turning heads internationally since it debuted last year at the Jerusalem Film Festival, the documentary has taken Moreh all around the world, and the filmmaker has found demand for a sequel from an unlikely place.

“What moves me most are the Arabs who come up to me and hug me after a screening,” says Moreh. “It’s as if I did something they’ve wished for a long time. A lot of them are coming to me and saying, ‘I wish we could have something like that in our country.’ ”

Moreh hopes that the leadership in both Israel and its neighbors will have equally open minds about the suggestions offered by the six intelligence experts. But the filmmaker is realistic about the rough road ahead.

Then again, Moreh was able to convince six men who were sworn to secrecy about their work to share their experiences on film. Is it too much of a stretch to believe The Gatekeepers could open up a dialogue that’s been kept under wraps for far too long?

Where do you think the compromises need to come from to bring peace to the Israelis and Palestinians? Reason it out in COMMENTS.