Yesterday, a French TV channel was screening The Gatekeepers, the famous Israeli documentary featuring former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service.
It was thus an opportunity to watch this controversial report (while speaking about the film, the Israeli Minister of Culture & Sport, Limor Livnat, denounced “movies that soil Israel’s image” and called for movie directors to censor their own work…).
The documentary was bound to trigger praises and anger amongst actors and observers of the ongoing conflict. Indeed, Thomas Friedman noticed: “when it comes to discussing the Middle East, people go temporarily insane“. It is thus not surprising the Israeli right wing accuses Dror Moreh of producing a biased documentary.
The documentary depicts the thoughts of former Shin Bet heads on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a low-intensity colonial conflict, in which Israel’s policy is wrong according to the International Law prism (Israel’s colonization policy preventing the achievement of a two-State solution set by International law). Thus, as a jurist, the line adopted by Dror Moreh did not shocked me. Maybe it is also easier for me as I am neither Jew nor Arab.
If the documentary implies that Israel, as a State (thus as a government and communities), has de facto and in fine never really acted in favour of peace, it does not lapse into gullibility. Avi Ditcher (head of Shabak under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon) is interviewed for a long time and he actually appears as a man decided to protect Israel’s security without any qualm, against individuals that do not have any either…
It is in my opinion one strength of the documentary. It is more than a history lesson about Israel Security Agency. It is a depiction of the feelings of men that led this institution. And one can notice four main behavioral characteristics of these men.
First, these men appear bitter. Despite achieving greater levels of security for their country each year, effectively reducing the number of attacks on their soil, they can only contain terrorism, resilience of which is made possible by the lack of a fair peace process. As long as political leaders do not follow a clear strategy towards Palestinians, they will be doomed to contain a permanent threat.
What stroke me was their lack of hindsight, at least for some of them. They admitted it took them time to understand Palestinian violence. It is only after several years that some realized the basic element of the terrorist relationship: one’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, and vice versa. It is only during the second Intifada that they understood the Palestinians believed they had nothing to loose and thus could be satisfied just by seeing the Israeli suffer losses.
A third element that is highlighted is their willpower, their commitment to protect their country and, sometimes, for Avi Ditcher to the point of being blind, when he says that you just have to hit the terrorist groups up to the critical mass so it persuades others not to engage into terrorism…
However, this willpower does not prevent them from adopting daring positions (need to engage their enemies, even Iran, concerns over the future of Israel as a democracy…) by comparison to their political leaders. Men serving in intelligence agencies are often wiser than political leaders, and this documentary proves it.