The Gatekeepers Film: A Review With Personal Insights

A few days ago, I sat down and watched “The Gatekeepers.” This documentary film directed by Dror Moreh is from 2012 but is still very relevant today. It tells the story of Israel’s security from the Six-Day War until today through the eyes of six former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. For many years, the heads of the Shin Bet have stayed in the dark, but in this film, they go out and tell about their experiences from the service. They talk about significant events throughout Israel’s existence, the challenges of security, the question of morality, and why they are disappointed by the different governments.

This is an excellent film if you want to learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It covers the main events connected to the conflict, from the Six-Day War through the First Intifada and the Oslo Accords until today. In this review, I will share some of the film’s main points and explain how they are still relevant today.

You can read my review below but DO watch the film. You can watch the documentary “The Gatekeepers” on YouTube or get it on Amazon Prime (for better resolution). 

Also, make sure to read my post about what the Quran says about the Jews to understand that there are also other sides to the conflict, not only connected to what “The Gatekeepers” talk about.

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The conflict: The result of no strategy

The movie begins with the Six-Day War. At the end of this war, Israel had captured the West Bank from the Jordanians and the Gaza Strip from the Egyptians. Over one million Palestinians came under Israeli military rule, and Israel had to start thinking about what should be done with those Palestinians.

Avraham Shalom, the head of the Shin Bet from 1981 to 1986, recalls that he was in the operations department of the Shin Bet in the time that came after the Six-Day War. He says that back then, they started thinking about how they could cope with terrorism, although terrorism was not so developed at the time. The Shin Bet didn’t receive clear instructions from the government regarding what should be done in the West Bank and Gaza. It was not clear where Israel was headed. From what I’ve learned regarding the days after the Six-Day War, I can tell that the Israeli government just wished that the Palestinians would decide to pack their stuff and disappear, so the Israeli government didn’t really think about them as part of the country. Shalom recalls that at first, without clear guidance, the Shin Bet started searching for solutions for the Palestinians, such as the option of establishing a Palestinian state. But then, terrorism started raising its head, and the Shin Bet began focusing on fighting terrorism instead of finding solutions.

Many people say that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict began in 1948. I believe that the Six-Day War of 1967 also had a significant role in the conflict. The capture of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the lack of clear strategy in the Israeli government only intensified the frustration. The heads of the Shin Bet also say that there was no strategy and that there is no clear strategy until today. We have no idea what the Israeli government wants to do in Gaza or the West Bank. 

Furthermore, many of the Israeli leaders denied or ignored the existence of a Palestinian nation. And today, many Israelis still deny the existence of the Palestinians. I can tell you that I’ve heard people, including friends and family members, say that “there is no such thing as Palestinians.” I say – When you deny the existence of your neighbor, you have nothing to work with. If someone had told me, “There is no such thing as the Jewish people,” I would have gotten really upset, and it would have been hard for him to gain my empathy.     

Things are not black or white

Throughout the film, the heads of the Shin Bet emphasize that their work is not a matter of black or white. They work in complex situations where they have to make decisions, sometimes quick ones. For example, let’s assume they know about a terrorist who is planning a large attack, and they must stop him as soon as possible before he arrives at his destination. They are able to locate him in a car, but there are two other people in the car with him, and those people might be innocent. Should they attack the car to prevent the terror attack, or should they wait and try to locate the terrorist when he is alone? If they attack the car right away, they might be killing two innocent people. If they wait and maybe lose track of the terrorist, this might lead to the death of dozens of people in a terrorist attack.

The assassinations of terrorists continue until today in the West Bank, Gaza, and even Lebanon. And I believe that the heads of Israel’s security are always in this conflict – trying, on the one hand, to minimize the number of innocent people killed, but on the other hand, thinking about the security of the Israeli people, their people. So, in the context of the Hamas-Israel War, should they avoid bombing densely populated areas, although they know that those areas are the headquarters of the Hamas terrorists, who will happily return to kill more people in Israel? It’s a tough call, but you must put your people first and, at the same time, do as much as possible to ensure minimal casualties.    

At another point in the film, the heads of the Shin Bet talk about the Bus 300 affair, an event that happened in 1984. During this event, the Shin Bet executed two Palestinians who had hijacked a bus, after they had been caught and their hands were tied. Avraham Shalom, who was the head of the Shin Bet during this event, said in the film: “In the war against terror, forget about morality.” At that time, he thought that killing those two terrorists was good for national security. Later, the Israeli Supreme Court of Justice said that the order to kill those Palestinian terrorists was illegal and that the Shin Bet member in the field should not have followed it. Today, legal teams work closely with the security forces to ensure that they follow international laws.

Are there Jewish terrorists?

Many people in Israel will say that there is no such thing as a Jewish terrorist. But I say it’s all a matter of perspective. If you ask a Palestinian if killing an Israeli soldier is terrorism, many of them will reply that it is not terrorism. It is freedom fighting. The Israelis will say that it is terrorism. If you ask the Palestinians what they think about Palestinians who kill innocent women and children – what has happened many times in the past – some will deny that Palestinians do such things. Others will say that it is okay because the Israeli women and children are occupiers. The same goes for some of the Israeli-Jewish people. They see the Jewish people in a positive view, and if they do anything that looks bad, it must be because of a good reason.

In the film, Yuval Diskin, who was the head of the Shin Bet from 2005 to 2011, recalls that as a young army recruit in 1974, he was sent to try to stop the first Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Those first settlements were illegal and against the government’s decisions, but at the end of the day, the government didn’t really do something dramatic to stop them from being established. And once they were established, it accepted them. As Yaakov Peri said, “The fact that most Israeli governments did nothing gave the settlers or some of the settlers the sense that they’re slowly becoming masters, that they’re gaining the freedom to act because the government tends to look away. If they do that with an illegal settlement, it can also extend into illegal activity.”

In 1980, a Palestinian group attacked Jewish worshippers in Hebron, and in response, a group of Jewish settlers attacked Palestinian mayors. This event led the Shin Bet to investigate and locate those responsible for the attack, who were among the leaders of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The fact that they were leaders of their communities gave them access to high ranks in the Israeli government, including the prime minister. So, even though some were arrested, many were freed from prison very soon because of their connections.

The heads of the Shin Bet point out the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 as a turning point. The assassination was done by a right-wing extremist Jew. Because it was a Jew who killed Rabin, the Shin Bet understood that they must put more focus on the radical Jewish groups. Now, they have an entire department that keeps track of Jewish problem-makers, but as I’ve already mentioned, if the government has no strategy regarding what it wants to happen in the West Bank, there’s not much to do.

Is there a partner for peace?

I believe that most Israelis will say that “there is no partner for peace,” especially after October 7th. Lately, I’ve also heard many Arabs say that there is no partner for peace. There are a lot of trust issues here. Both sides don’t trust each other. Following the failure of the Oslo Accords, the Second Intifada broke. Israel got more Palestinian terrorism, and the Palestinians got more Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Ami Ayalon, who was the head of the Shin Bet from 1995 to 2000, recalls a meeting that was held in London during the Second Intifada, during which the Israelis and Palestinians tried to come to some sort of agreement. A Palestinian acquaintance came up to him and said: “Ami, we finally defeated you. For us, victory is seeing you suffer. That’s all we want.” Even though hundreds of Palestinians were being killed in the Intifada and they were losing hope for peace, they still saw themselves as winning Israel. Also, now, we see that the Palestinians in Gaza are dying by hundreds, but the Hamas leaders don’t give up. Maybe because they want to show us that they are not really suffering, because at last, they were able to make us suffer on October 7th, and everything that comes afterward is worth it.

A few years ago, I also had an unpleasant encounter with a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, whom I was trying to cooperate with on a certain project. He told me: “We’ve passed the Crusaders and the Turks; we will pass you, too. We are patient.”

So, how can you make peace with someone who enjoys seeing you suffer and patiently waits for you to disappear? I don’t know, but as someone who yearns for peace, I hope someone will find a way.

Conclusion

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex, and “The Gatekeepers” film shows us this complexity. There is no black or white but rather many shades of gray. Each group sees the same things differently. The Shin Bet has been established to take care of Israel’s internal security. It has been able to stop many attacks throughout the state’s history, not only Palestinian attacks but also Jewish ones. But at the end of the day, the Shin Bet can’t create a strategy. When those responsible for creating a plan are not working on it, we’re doomed to stay in this cycle of endless suffering. Yeah, I know it sounds negative, but situations are not always bright and shiny. Maybe someday, hopefully soon, people will set aside the hate and clear room for peace and genuine cooperation.   

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Yours,

Lior

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