The Fog of Occupation: An interview with Dror Moreh, director of ‘The Gatekeepers’

When I sat down with The Gatekeepers director Dror Moreh, he seemed excited, perhaps even optimistic about the upcoming Academy Awards, however he is openly pessimistic about the future of Israel. There is no doubt that his fears for the future of his country, are what led him to take on the project of getting the six living former heads of Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service, to be interviewed for a documentary film.

How was Moreh able to convince these six former spies to appear in the film? According to him, in part, by comparing his vision for his film to the 2003 documentary by Errol Morris The Fog of War. Moreh was adamant that his subjects were offered absolutely no control over his final product. In the film, he doesn’t ask them why they chose to talk on camera, but he includes footage in the film which indicates that they each now desire their government to negotiate with those they fought, plotted against, and in many cases tortured. He also highlights in the film that they are collectively critical, if not of choices that they made, of the way the Prime Ministers they served chose to handle the conflict with the Palestinian people.

In the same way that looking at the negative of a photo shows you a different perspective, I find it informative to know what was left out of a film- especially a documentary, so I asked, “What got left on the cutting room floor?”

And he replied, “My heart, my lungs my legs, my organs, my everything.”

Moreh points out that there is much more from those interviews that people really should see. To that end he has plans to create a 5-part documentary series for Israeli TV (and American he hopes), and release a book as well. As he said, “It is very difficult to edit 6 men with incredible life stories” into 97 minutes.

For Moreh, the most difficult thing to leave out was the childhood stories of the Shin Bet directors. He gave an example about Avraham Shalom. Shalom, now 84, was the director of Shin Bet from 1980 to 1986. He told me the story of Shalom growing up during the rise of the Nazi party in Germany and being seriously beaten by kids at school because he was Jewish. Moreh said it pains him that at the end of the film when Shalom says that we treat the Palestinians as the Germans treated Jews, the story of Shalom’s childhood is not in the mind of the viewer. He feels the viewer should know that Shalom has been on the other side of that statement. Yet, he chose to leave that out of the film.

While Moreh cites the constraints of time for leaving out historical context of the lives of his subjects, historical context for the conflict itself is also missing from The Gatekeepers. Why leave out the historical context for the conflict which started well before the founding of Israel in 1948? Because Moreh says, “It is endless.” For him the pivotal point in the story he wanted to tell is 1967. When Israel seized control over all of the Palestinian land it now controls in 1967, he insists, the conflict shifted and Israeli society split. He says that was a breaking point for him.

He went on to explain that after Israel conquered the Sinai from the Egyptians, it withdrew to the internationally recognized border “in order to make peace”. But in “Judea and Samaria” (The West Bank), his voice trailed off. He was clearly trying to convey a contrast but seemed unable to speak the words he was thinking aloud. The example he gave instead was the analogy that that until 1967 Israel was like a vehicle going down a path on a mission in one direction. At that point, it turned on another path “in the wrong direction,” and has never turned back. “And since then it’s moving for me, towards the abyss.”

Moreh was adamant that for him “Peace means a Palestinian state, not the right to vote. An independent viable state that is Palestine.”
I pressed him as to whether or not he asked these “experts” “if they ever suggested to their bosses, the prime ministers they each served under, that the best tool for assuring the security of Israel and Israelis is to sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians?

“At the end I understand what you mean by your question.” Moreh said, then paused. “It’s complicated… Israel cannot give democracy to everyone.”

“The Palestinians in the West Bank, they want their own country, they do not want to be citizens of Israel. They cannot give them citizenship, also they do not want that.”

He believes that these Shin Bet “gatekeepers” supported Rabin “when he went towards peace, they said it is a good path to walk.” “And… they opposed Netanyahu, who came after the assassination of Rabin– when he deteriorated the peace process.”

Ultimately these intelligence chiefs, in Moreh’s judgement were “state employees, they are not elected. Did they do enough? I don’t think they did enough. If you ask me personally I think they could have effected it more, and should have.”

Moreh believes their insight comes after they leave the job, that with hindsight these men gained a more strategic point of view as opposed to a tactical one. It was a theme he attempted to weave throughout his film, tactics versus strategy. Lack of strategy is why he “feels Israel is failing miserably,” and why he ended the film with Ami Ayalon, who directed Shin Bet from 1996 to 2000 saying, “We’re winning all the battles, and we’re losing the war.”

When asked if the film was made for an Israeli audience he exclaimed, “Absolutely!” before tracking back to say that it was also made for “an international audience” which was why he said he felt the need to include “the explanation of Oslo” then clarifying, “the Oslo accords” which he feels an international audience (including me apparently) would lack knowledge of. Elsewhere he admitted, “My main thing was to create something that will alter the way Israelis see reality. To tell a story they probably know, but from a different point of view.” In that case one can see it being helpful to start the story in 1967.

Moreh wanted the film to make it clear to its audiences that this conflict could and should have been resolved a long time ago.

Finally, I asked him directly if his film is in any way a kind of political intervention– if he is trying to save the Jewish state by ending the occupation. “You use very very big words to describe [the situation] but yes… I am trying to convince people with my methods to go where I think they should go. But at the end of the day the politicians are the decision makers.”

As he predicted at our meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu will remain in office as a result of the recent Israeli elections. As for his opinion of the current head decision maker; Moreh said, “I think he is the worst Prime Minister ever in Israeli history– the biggest failure. I think he will be elected again. I cannot understand how the Israeli public can vote for him again. He fucked up in everything he did, in every aspect of his job.”

In an interview in The Jewish Week he was asked, “Do you actually foresee the destruction of the Jewish state?” Again he seemed to find speaking his fears aloud impossible. “I cannot say those words openly. It’s hard for me to say that Israel would be destroyed– almost unbearable to say those words– but it is not going to go to a good place.”

About Estee Chandler

Estee Chandler is the Los Angeles Organizer for Jewish Voice for Peace.
Posted in Israel/Palestine, Israeli Government, Media, Occupation, One state/Two states, US Politics | Tagged

{ 25 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. seafoid says:

    It is so sad. They got their state and they f*cked it up.

    As Les said last year

    “What purpose would a Judaism stripped of humanitarian values serve, not just Jews, but all mankind?”

    They never got on to the right moral path. They never thought of the Palestinians as fully human, people just like them.

  2. Obsidian says:

    I saw the film last week, in Israel, and read the english subtitles.

    “but he includes footage in the film which indicates that they each now desire their government to negotiate with those they fought”

    I remember the words ‘talk to’ those they fought. I don’t remember the word ‘negotiate’.

    “Moreh said it pains him that at the end of the film when Shalom says that we treat the Palestinians as the Germans treated Jews”

    I don’t remember anyone saying that. I remember one of the Shin Bet heads saying that the occupation was the same as the German occupation of France, Belgium, etc, in World War 2.

    “Moreh was adamant that for him “Peace means a Palestinian state, not the right to vote. An independent viable state that is Palestine.”

    You omit to quote Shin Bet’s Avraham Shalom who said the immediately after the Six Day War, Israel did try to set up a Palestinian State in the West Bank.

    “And… they opposed Netanyahu, who came after the assassination of Rabin– when he deteriorated the peace process.”

    Failing to mention that the Oslo process was also deteriorated by Hamas suicide bombers.

    • Denis says:

      @Obsidian: “You omit to quote Shin Bet’s Avraham Shalom who said the immediately after the Six Day War, Israel did try to set up a Palestinian State in the West Bank.”

      Here! Here! Nor should the world ever forget that Ben Gurion offered the Palestinians a deal in 1947: We won’t butcher you if you give up your land. But the Palestinians refused the deal, and so screw them. Nevermind that even the making of such an “offer” would be considered extortion and prosecuted as a crime under any civilized system of law. The Israeli mafia is, and has always been, an extension of the Israel government. Or vice versa.

      Speaking of mafia . . . Israeli MSM is reporting that Sharon’s brain has been scanned and is showing unexpected signs of activity. Would love to see a poll here on the question of whether or not that is good news.

      • Obsidian says:

        @Denis

        ” Nor should the world ever forget that Ben Gurion offered the Palestinians a deal in 1947″.

        Ben Gurion was not in the position to offer anyone anything in 1947.

        The newly formed United Nations did propose a partition of Mandatory Palestine which Ben Gurion and the Zionists agreed to but the Arabs rejected.

        I don’t call recall Ben Gurion threatening the Arabs in 1947. The would have been imprudent considering that the British were still running Palestine in 1947.

        • Woody Tanaka says:

          “I don’t call recall Ben Gurion threatening the Arabs in 1947.”

          You’re out of your mind. zionist Jews like Ben Gurion have threatened Arabs every moment from the middle of the 18th Century down to the present day. Their entire ideology is nothing other than a massive threat to the Palestinian people. Every act to enact their Dastardly plan — from the writing of the first zionists screeds to whatever happened today in occupied Palestine — was part of the scheme to ethnically cleanse the native Arab population and steal their land. Thus, every act any zionist ever took to advance zionism was a threat to the native Palestinians, including those by this person in 1947.

        • Cliff says:

          Ben Gurion and the other Zionist leaders as well as intellectuals said partition would be the first step/foot in the door for more land acquisition.

          Makes sense too, considering how Israel instigates conflicts and seizes land during the aftermath.

          There is no reason to think Zionist Jews would quietly accept a State with 50/50 roughly Jew to Palestinian Arab ratio population.

          And anyways, the civil war had already begun. It’s not as if the Palestinians were unreasonable in rejecting the division of their homeland for Jewish immigrants.

          Zionism is a lie.

        • john h says:

          “Jews like Ben Gurion have threatened Arabs every moment from the middle of the 18th Century down to the present day. Their entire ideology is nothing other than a massive threat to the Palestinian people”.

          Absolutely, as so clearly stated by Jabotinsky in his The Iron Wall, written in 1923, which specifically spells it out and calls it colonialism, well known as a notorious European specialty.

    • Mndwss says:

      “I remember the words ‘talk to’ those they fought. I don’t remember the word ‘negotiate’.”

      It is an Israeli film.

      In Hebrew ‘negotiate’ means ‘talk to’, as in do as we say, or else…

    • seafoid says:

      “Failing to mention that the Oslo process was also deteriorated by Hamas suicide bombers.”

      Who cares now, Obsidian? You can’t turn the clock back. Israel is where it is now.

      There was no youtube in 94. Nobody would have said something like this with global reach.

      link to youtube.com
      EastBayFunk2 1 day ago
      “Using the Torah as an excuse to colonize. What a joke Israel has become. The world is growing wise to the Zionist ways.”

      The video is interesting. The Palestinians have the Palestinian faces and they are poor . The white Europeans speak their manufactured language and have nice clothes.

      Guess who loses in the end.

    • It is always nice to know that Isarel instigated and mounted a preemptive attacks against Arab to establish a Palestinian state.One wonders why did Isarel immediately start sending settlers to occupy Golan,WB,Sinai and plan for annexation of S Lebanon?
      The double talk started by Herzl and BnGuiron have now percolated to every level
      Of Israeli society . They believe their own lies.

      If Israel were genuinely interested ,they would have decamped by now. British did leaving Indian to their devices, USSR did in East Europe and Aghanistan and Indoneisan did to its next door ,and USA did in Vietnam

  3. Mndwss says:

    - “The example he gave instead was the analogy that that until 1967 Israel was like a vehicle going down a path on a mission in one direction. At that point, it turned on another path “in the wrong direction,” and has never turned back. “And since then it’s moving for me, towards the abyss.”

    This article made me think about the Costa Concordia disaster and Francesco Schettino. I guess Nutty like Schettino will stumble and fall into a life-boat when he think the ship is sinking…

    “I think he is the worst Prime Minister ever in Israeli history– the biggest failure. I think he will be elected again. I cannot understand how the Israeli public can vote for him again. He fucked up in everything he did, in every aspect of his job.”

    Like Costa Concordia, Israel has a Ship-owner (Sheldon Adelson) that use his influence to hire the worst captain he can find…

    I hope Nethanyaho like Schettino can put the sinking ship on the beach and avoid total disaster.

    But i fear that the captain will put the Israeli ship far from any beach and hit an iceberg, and the abyss is what is waiting.

  4. seafoid says:

    “So we forgot about the Palestinian issue”
    No, you didn’t. You thought they would all leave.

    “Treat them like dogs” was what Dayan said. And you did.

    And now animal rights are on the agenda.

  5. bilal a says:

    Im looking forward to a Mondoweiss update on the destabilization of the Morsi regime in Egypt. I noticed Weekly Standard and FP writer David Kenner who interviewed the israeli ambassador on Syria, then interviewede the Liberal leader ElBaradei in Dec at FP; only to be shortly followed up by the ‘Black Bloc’ anarchist liberals attacking government buildings in suez. Some friends in Cairo report the perception in Egypt that the protestors receive pay from foreign NGOs like the one found holding tens of thousands in cash during the first revolutionary movement.

    Is this payback for Morsi’s support for Gaza during the last Israeli attacks?

  6. seafoid says:

    “The Gatekeepers” isn’t the best name for the film. I would have called it “the Jewish Cossacks”

  7. RE: “The example he [Dror Moreh] gave instead was the analogy that that until 1967 Israel was like a vehicle going down a path on a mission in one direction. At that point, it turned on another path ‘in the wrong direction’, and has never turned back. ‘And since then it’s moving for me, towards the abyss’.” ~ Estee Chandler

    MY COMMENT: Down, down, down we [the U.S.] go into the deep, dark abyss; hand in hand with Israel.

  8. Avi_G. says:

    When Israel seized control over all of the Palestinian land it now controls in 1967, he insists, the conflict shifted and Israeli society split. He says that was a breaking point for him.

    That’s very convenient. It is the hallmark of Zionists to pick and choose the historical point of reference that best fits the goal of sustaining Israel as an exclusively Jewish state.

    When asked if the film was made for an Israeli audience he exclaimed, “Absolutely!” before tracking back to say that it was also made for “an international audience” which was why he said he felt the need to include “the explanation of Oslo” then clarifying, “the Oslo accords” which he feels an international audience (including me apparently) would lack knowledge of. Elsewhere he admitted, “My main thing was to create something that will alter the way Israelis see reality. To tell a story they probably know, but from a different point of view.” In that case one can see it being helpful to start the story in 1967.

    Moreh wanted the film to make it clear to its audiences that this conflict could and should have been resolved a long time ago.

    The problem I see with the film is that by omission it seeks to give the impression that these six former heads of the Israeli equivalent of the East German Stasi are somehow a voice of reason. While that may be true in retrospect, it also gives the false impression that Israel’s oft-touted security concerns are not only realistic but also grounded in concern for the so-called two-state solution.

    He went on to explain that after Israel conquered the Sinai from the Egyptians, it withdrew to the internationally recognized border “in order to make peace”.

    Nonsense.

    Israel held the Sinai as a bargaining chip after it occupied it in a war of aggression.

    Moshe Dayan, Israel’s Defense Minister at the time, himself said in Hebrew, “I prefer to have Sharm al-Sheikh without peace than have peace without Sharm al-Sheikh.”

    Here’s an English source for those who are interested: link to archive.jta.org

    Israel only agreed to the peace treaty with Egypt after many many incentives from the US, and many guarantees and assurances. It was blackmail.

  9. ToivoS says:

    “At the end I understand what you mean by your question.” Moreh said, then paused. “It’s complicated… Israel cannot give democracy to everyone.”

    Moreh seems like a good hearted sort of chap. But here is the dilemma of progressive Zionism. It is not complicated at all, the solution is simple. Either inside one or two states, democracy is the right of all citizens. If Israel insists on the one state solution, and they can because they have the power, the same simple solution remains.

  10. David Green says:

    Moreh’s interview on Democracy Now this morning with Amy Goodman & Aaron Mate reveals the limits of his compassion for the Palestinians. Like so many Israelis, he has a superiority complex. This also limits the pragmatic possibilities for a just peace. Palestinians always have to be accorded equal guilt; Israelis are never really ultimately responsible for their behavior, except in their “own interests.” Interesting film, I guess, but pretty disappointing at a political level.

  11. danielmate says:

    Agreed, David. I doubt I’d have been able to sit through that lengthy “there are two sides” rant without interrupting, or worse. My brother Aaron (who co-hosted) has more restraint than I do — he wisely redirected the conversation to the film itself, where Moreh feels more comfortable letting down his guard. The bunker mentality is so bred in the bone there.

  12. danielmate says:

    Annie: I sure am, and will pass your message along.

  13. yourstruly says:

    re: the i/p conflict?

    there are two sides?

    evenhandedness?

    & the warsaw ghetto uprising?

    evenhandedness there too?