Israeli film ‘The Gatekeepers’ brings truths about occupation that Palestinians are vilified for saying

Last week I saw a riveting new Israeli film about moral corruption in the government.  The Gatekeepers features lengthy interviews with six former heads of the security service, Shin Bet, who repudiate the security policy they carried out. The men say that Palestinians committed acts of terror due to political causes Israeli leaders refuse to address, that the Israeli methods of attacking the symptoms are themselves a form of terrorism, and Israel should be talking to Hamas.

In the takeaway moment of the movie, Avraham Shalom, a ruthless former official now old and reflective, tells filmmaker Dror Moreh that the Israelis are really no different from the Nazis in their occupations of Belgium, France and Czechoslovakia.

If a member of Congress or a mainstream columnist said any of this, he or she would be run out of town on a rail. Palestinians have said as much for years and been vilified. Israelis are allowed.

Of course it is great news that this stark and stylish film was featured in the New York Film Festival and that it has been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics. The film’s prominence, following the earlier success of The Law in These Parts and 5 Broken  Cameras, signals a new discourse in the United States: Our prestige media are going to start talking about the vicious cruelty of the occupation.

And when you consider that this film was essentially authorized by the six former Shin Bet men– “They all approved the movie,” Moreh said at the screening I attended– it is a sign of a fresh political development: The U.S. liberal establishment is beginning to echo Ehud Olmert’s warning of five years ago, that Israel is going to commit national suicide if it does not end the occupation.

Fears of Israel’s demise motivated the Shin Bet men to talk to Moreh. They are trying to save Israel.

“We are making the lives of millions miserable,” says Carmi Gillon, one of the film’s stars. “You become a bit of a leftist,” says the severely-handsome Ami Ayalon, who issued similar warnings at J Street 3 years ago. While a third, Yuval Diskin, says that the prophesy of the late Yeshayahu Leibowitz should be etched in stone: that governing a million “foreigners” in the occupied territories would turn Israel into “a Shin Bet state.”

Our informants are murderers. The Shin Bet men stared crossing the red lines on immoral conduct nearly 30 years ago, when Shalom authorized the killings of Palestinians arrested in a famous bus hijacking case, and the line keeps moving. They may think they’ve redeemed themselves with this film, I don’t.

And the movie says that the moral crisis began in 1967 with the occupation, and suggests that the crisis would go away if the occupation over “foreigners” were at last reversed. The settlers are seen as an alien and grotesque underbelly of Israeli society. A sharp distinction is drawn between the expansionism of 1967 and the expansionism of 1948. As if the messianic settlers who plotted to blow up the Dome of the Rock are all that different from the messianic settlers who built Jewish-only communities in the Galilee. 

The settler terrorists who tried to blow up the Temple Mount, by the way, were soon set free, the movie shows, with frightening footage. The religious nuts have deep roots inside the Israeli political establishment. And Gillon, on whose watch Yitzhak Rabin was murdered, warns that if settlers are actually pulled out of the West Bank, “I believe we’ll see another political assassination.”

Netanyahu is shown in this film to be part of the rightwing crowd inciting against Yitzhak Rabin after he signed the Oslo Accords. And Moreh is eager for his film to be released in Israel well ahead of the January elections, so that it might undermine Netanyahu’s approach in public opinion.  But even if Netanyahu goes, the occupation is sure to continue. 

The historical footage of the occupation is very moving. We see older women breaking up stones so that children will have something to throw in the First Intifada. We see a Palestinian tailor trying to mend a jacket as an Israeli soldier with a rifle paces back and forth in front of him; and there is no doubt who has all the humanity in that scene. But casting these people as foreigners is a basic problem with Zionism; and even if the occupation ends, that mindset has to change. 

I embrace the new honesty in the U.S. about Israeli society that this film represents, the film hardly goes far enough. And yes, I find it uncomfortable that I’m getting this information at the behest of the Israelis. When we saw 5 Broken Cameras, Norman Finkelstein said that seeing the movie violates the BDS guidelines as it had the support of an Israeli cultural ministry. Myself I can live with that contradiction, especially because 5 Broken Cameras is told from the Paletinian point of view. But the larger point is well taken. Having Israeli liberal Zionists as messengers to Americans about the conflict is a narrow lens. I kept wondering what Israeli leadership would look like if the government were actually representative of all its citizens– a question Moreh doesn’t care to explore.

At the screening I attended, Moreh was proud of being backed by Sony Pictures Classics, and predicted that Ayalon might come to screenings, as a kind of movie star. Asked whether he will take the film to synagogues, he joked that the New York Film Festival feels like a synagogue to him. I wonder if this film is a kind of atonement. We did horrible things. Now let’s end the occupation and move on!

  1. This is the first I’ve heard of the film and that tells you something–here’s one American who is very interested in the subject, reads the NYT and the New Yorker and I’ve heard zilch. If it was mentioned in their pages they didn’t make much of it. That says nothing about the film, but it can’t make an impact if nobody hears about it.

  2. ” The Shin Bet men started crossing the red lines on immoral conduct nearly 30 years ago, when Shalom authorized the killings of Palestinians arrested in a famous bus hijacking case…”

    And it’s worth mentioning that in 1985, Brigadier General Yitzhak Mordechai, who had led the storming of the ‘bus 300′, and eleven others were put on trial for the killing of the two prisoners.

    • Come on, pudracist, if that’s “worth mentioning,” it’s also worth mentioning that none of them were convicted, as one zionists or another in the make-believe government issued a blanket “pardon” (as if sucha pardon is necessary in a case of a Jew murdering an Arab under that government…)

      It’s also worth mentioning that the investigation into the murders uncovered the fact that murders were allegedly done on Shalom’s orders, who acted on the orders of the prime minister, the criminal Shamir. Of course, THEY weren’t prosecuted for their crimes.

      link to en.wikipedia.org

      Oh, it’s also worth mentioning that the “israeli” “government” committed crimes against humanity by destroying the houses of people for no reason other than that they happened to have been related to the bus hijackers.

    • Also worth noting:

      In 1985 a senior Israeli army general Yitzhak Mordechai was acquitted of charges related to the deaths of the captured terrorists.[1] Later, it emerged that members of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, had implicated the general, while concealing who gave the direct order that the prisoners be killed. In 1986 the Attorney General of Israel, Yitzhak Zamir, was forced to resign after he refused to call off an investigation into the Shin Bet’s role in the affair.[2] Shortly afterwards Avraham Shalom, head of the Shin Bet resigned and was given a full Presidential pardon for unspecified crimes, while pardons were granted to many involved before charges were laid. Following the scandal, the Landau Commission was set up to investigate Shin Bet procedures.[3]

      “Kav 300 affair” from Wikipedia
      link to en.wikipedia.org

      So NO ONE paid the price for killing two Palestinians in cold blood, and the guilty parties were given pardons before even being arrested or tried. Definitely worth noting, pz.

      The only reason this became public is because of the publishing of a photograph of one of the hijackers being led away in handcuffs, despite official Israeli reports that all had been killed in the storming of the bus. Its most likely that this was not the first incident of its kind…only the first that inadvertently became public.

      • RE: “In 1985 a senior Israeli army general Yitzhak Mordechai was acquitted of charges related to the deaths of the captured terrorists.[1] Later, it emerged that members of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, had implicated the general . . . So NO ONE paid the price for killing two Palestinians in cold blood, and the guilty parties were given pardons before even being arrested or tried. Definitely worth noting, pz.” ~ tree

        SPOKEN WITH A HEAVY SOUTHERN DRAWL AKIN TO THAT OF HALEY BARBOUR (FORMER GOVERNOR OF MISSISSIPPI AND CURRENTLY CHAIRMAN OF THE REPUBLICAN GOVERNORS ASSOCIATION):
        “Well now gentlemen, clearly this proves without a shadow of a doubt that Israel indeed shares our exceptional American values!”*

        * FROM WIKIPEDIA [Greensboro massacre]:

        [EXCERPTS] The Greensboro massacre occurred on November 3, 1979 in Greensboro, North Carolina, United States. Five protest marchers were shot and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. The protest was the culmination of attempts by the Communist Workers Party to organize mostly black industrial workers in the area.[1]
        The marchers killed were: Sandi Smith,[2] a nurse and civil rights activist; Dr. James Waller,[3] president of a local textile workers union who ceased medical practice to organize workers; Bill Sampson,[4] a graduate of the Harvard Divinity School; Cesar Cauce,[5] a Cuban immigrant who graduated magna cum laude from Duke University; and Dr. Michael Nathan,[6] chief of pediatrics at Lincoln Community Health Center in Durham, North Carolina, a clinic that helped children from low-income families. . .
        . . . One of the most questionable aspects of the shoot-out is the role of the police. Police would normally have been present at such a rally. However, no police were present, which allowed the assailants to escape. A police detective and a police photographer did follow the Klan and neo-Nazi caravan to the site, but did not attempt to intervene. Edward Dawson, a Klansman turned police informant,[1] was in the lead car of the caravan.[8] Two days prior to the march, one of the Klansmen went to the police station and obtained a map of the march and the rally.[7] Bernard Butkovich, an undercover agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATFE) later testified that he was aware that Klansmen and members of the American Nazi Party unit he had infiltrated would confront the demonstrators. In a previous testimony, the neo-Nazis claimed the agent encouraged them to carry firearms to the anti-Klan demonstration.[10] . . .
        . . . Forty Klansmen and neo-Nazis, and several Communist marchers were involved in the shootings; sixteen Klansmen and Nazis were arrested and the six best cases were brought to trial first.[1] Five Klansmen were charged with murder: David Matthews,[11] Jerry Smith,[12] Jack Fowler,[13] Harold Flowers,[14] and Billy Joe Franklin.[15] During the second trial nine men were charged; in addition to David Matthews, Jerry Smith, Jack Fowler, six other men, Virgil Griffin,[16] Eddie Dawson,[17] Wayne Wood,[18] Roy Toney,[19] Coleman Blair Pridmore,[20] and Rayford Milano Caudle[21] were charged with other crimes associated with the event. The two criminal trials resulted in the acquittal of the defendants by all-white juries.[22] . . .

        SOURCE – link to en.wikipedia.org

  3. “As if the messianic settlers who plotted to blow up the Dome of the Rock are all that different from the messianic settlers who built Jewish-only communities in the Galilee.”

    Do you really not understand the differences here? Just for starters, do you think Jewish only communities in the Galilee are somehow different than those in the center, coastal region or the Negev?

    If you argue that Dome of the Rock terrorists are ‘not so different’ than boho suburbanites looking for ‘quality of life’ then you are strengthening some very extreme factions in this debate. Would you also argue that Palestinians who blow up civilians are ‘not so different’ than those who do not? And which camp exactly would be strengthened by that argument?

    • “If you argue that Dome of the Rock terrorists are ‘not so different’ than boho suburbanites looking for ‘quality of life’ then you are strengthening some very extreme factions in this debate. ”

      Okay, let me get the cheap shot out of the way first. Quality of life means Jewish-only community? I’m sure you don’t mean it that way, but is “Jewish only” seen in “quality of life” terms by those suburban bohos? Possibly I misunderstood.

      Now for the main point–I grew up in the South right after Jim Crow as I am endlessly repeating and no doubt there was a difference between the sort of low life who would participate in a lynching and the oh-so-genteel racists one actually knew who wouldn’t even use the N-word (though some did, quite freely). But they were all part of the same culture and it was the genteel folk who actually wrote the rules. It’s one thing that rings false in “To Kill A Mockingbird”–to read that book you’d think that illiterate poor white rural people were the ones mainly responsible for Jim Crow, while practically the entire town’s white power structure was secretly or not so secretly ashamed of it. Which is absurd.

      I don’t know how much of that carries over to Israel, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there is some truth to the analogy.

      Put it still another way–why should someone like Dani Dayan link get much more respect than the messianic idiots plotting to blow up the Dome on the Rock?

    • “Would you also argue that Palestinians who blow up civilians are ‘not so different’ than those who do not?”

      You do. They’re crushed beneath Zion whether they blow up civilians or not.

    • Your fellow colonialists are thieves and the ones who murder Palestinians are murderers.

      There you go, differentiation Zionist.

    • Newclench October 15, 2012 at 4:57 pm “Just for starters, do you think Jewish only communities in the Galilee are somehow different than those in the center, coastal region or the Negev?”

      Just for starters, the Galilee ain’t in Israel. Some of the center, coastal region and the Negev is. link to wp.me

    • Do you really not understand the differences here?

      something like a half million fans attended an anniversary of the death of Kahane in israel. where do you think they live?

  4. RE: “the prophesy of the late Yeshayahu Leibowitz should be etched in stone: that governing a million ‘foreigners’ in the occupied territories would turn Israel into ‘a Shin Bet state’.”

    ISRAEL IS CERTAINLY MAKING RAPID “PROGRESS” IN TRANSITIONING TO A FASCISTIC POLICE STATE:
    “Army Radio asks musician not to perform song that ‘debases’ IDF soldiers”, By Emilie Grunzweig, Haaretz, 10/14/12

    [EXCERPTS] Israel’s Army Radio chief, Yaron Dekel, cancelled a special broadcast of a new song released by musician Izhar Ashdot as the song, entitled ‘A Matter of Habit,’ is demeaning to IDF soldiers and according to Dekel, should not receive airtime on the IDF’s radio station.
    Among the song’s lyrics, written by Alona Kimhi, are the lines “they are not men, nor women / They are mere objects, mere shadows / To learn to kill / It is a matter of habit … To learn cruelty / Is a matter of momentum / It starts small / And then it comes.”
    According to Ashdot, the song was written following Kimhi’s experiences on tours led by “Breaking the Silence,” an organization comprised of IDF veterans, who served at the start of the Second Intifada or alter, and have taken upon themselves the task of exposing the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the West Bank. . .
    . . . “Today at about 1 P.M., with the band already at the radio studio tuning the instruments, we were contacted by the station and asked not to perform his album’s title song ‘A Matter of Habit’ during the program, despite the fact that the song had already aired on the station and was even preformed live on another of the station’s programs,” a statement made on behalf of Ashdot read.
    Ashdot’s statement went on to attack the press release made by the station “The release of the statement and the announcement that it represents the position of Army Radio negates the possibility of holding a fair and balanced discussion on the song and its contents. I am worried by the fact that in a democratic country a media outlet bans a song.

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – link to haaretz.com

    VIDEO: יזהר אשדות – עניין של הרגל – הקליפ הרשמי – Izhar Ashdot’s title song from the 2012 album “A Matter of Habit” (sung in Hebrew) [VIDEO, 04:59] – link to youtube.com

    • Dickerson, thank you for posting the link to this song. I have never seen a youtube video with over 1600 dislikes and this is limited to a Hebrew speaking audience.

      The song is riveting!!!

      • You are very welcome.
        Even without understanding Hebrew, I also found the song to be fairly riveting. And I found the visuals in the video to be quite captivating as well.
        I too noticed the 1600+ (currently 2000+) dislikes as compared to the number of 500+ likes (currently 800+).
        My assumption is that the settlements and yeshivas all have access to the internet (probably subsidized by the government of Israel). And the Ultra-orthodox who are paid by the government of Israel not to work (and are generally exempted from mandatory service in the IDF) have lots and lots of time to devote to disseminating hasbara on the internet.

        P.S. I very much enjoy your articles/commentaries!

    • RE: “ISRAEL IS CERTAINLY MAKING RAPID ‘PROGRESS’ IN TRANSITIONING TO A FASCISTIC POLICE STATE” – me (above)

      ALSO SEE: “Diplomacy Ministry seeks to boost settlers’ global image”, by Itamar Fleishman, Ynet News, 10/15/12
      Ahead of elections, ministry announces battle against efforts to de-legitimize Israel; initiative to cost NIS 1 million. Peace Now: Gov’t has become settlers’ PR firm

      [EXCERPTS] Against the backdrop of the upcoming Knesset elections, the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs is set to launch a campaign aiming to boost the West Bank settlements’ global image.
      The campaign, which will cost NIS 1 million (roughly $261,000), will be geared towards prominent bloggers and social network users both in Israel and abroad.
      The paperwork for the project was submitted to the accountant general shortly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the elections are to be moved up to January, making the initiative appear like a campaign move. And with the Likud primaries coming up, the initiative certainly won’t hurt the minister of public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs, Yuli Edelstein, who is seeking a spot on the party’s Knesset list.
      The ministry has asked the accountant general to allow the World Zionist Organization to lead the project without auctioning off the contract.
      According to the application, the project’s primary goal is to “bolster the legitimacy” of the settlements in light of the criticism leveled at Israel over its settlement activity. . .

      ENTIRE ARTICLE – link to ynetnews.com

      P.S. Dead man nation-state walking talking?

  5. “Avraham Shalom, a ruthless former official now old and reflective, ”
    Thats what happens to human when we are old and infirm and have managed to move out of the zone established by religion, family,nationalities,or creed. The truth hurts and pains and we seek redemption in different ways.

  6. Israeli film ‘The Gatekeepers’ brings truths about occupation that Palestinians are vilified for saying:

    This is a little passive voice isnt it, who vilifies Palestinians and why?

    It is hardly surprising that Israelis are showing a greater ability to speak plainly to the issues that many Diaspora Jews seem quite unable to.

    and this is plainly wrong: “and there is no doubt who has all the humanity in that scene.” no one has no humanity.

  7. Avraham Shalom – Israelis are really no different from the Nazis in their occupations of Belgium, France and Czechoslovakia.

    Good thing that Avraham was not headed on a boat to Gaza. This wouldn’t pass muster.

    I’m not sure our prestige media are going to start talking about the ‘vicious cruelty of the occupation’. We always hear about impact these great films have, but often these films mean nothing the CNN and the msm. They are passed along in the youtube realm for the most part.