By Leah Rieger
Taking a step away from the usual Hollywood fare, hitting cinemas this spring is the groundbreaking and Oscar nominated documentary “The Gatekeepers.” The film center’s on interviews with the six surviving former directors of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service and the organization responsible for keeping Israel safe from terrorists. It compiles archival footage, pictures and new clippings from important points in the evolution of the Shin Bet’s history and the country of Israel at large, while intersplicing these with contextualizing and candid interviews from the six surviving heads with the movie’s director Dror Moreh. “The Gatekeepers” provides an insightful, unconventional and never before heard perspective on the history of Israel and the Occupied Territories.
A major strength of the film is that it doesn’t smooth over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor does it take the usual one-sided approach in explaining events post-1967. It instead offers a bleak and yet reasoned prognosis of an unpromising future plagued with security issues should Israel continue its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This approach leaves the audiences unsettled and unsure of what lies in store for one of the more protracted conflicts in modern history.
The six former Shin Bet directors reveal that the current military tactics used by Israel have proven ineffective when dealing with terrorist organizations. The lesson learned here is that, when one terrorist is killed, another frequently fills the void. A key point made: the use of military force to ensure security may only fan the flames of violence and move both parties away from a peace settlement. Instead, the initial steps of pacification of a terrorist organization start with dialogue.
The key ingredient to a more hopeful future rests on the ability to have continuous dialogue with any and all levels of state and society. Avraham Shalom, former head of Shin Bet from 1981 to 1986 said Israel should try to negotiate with anyone, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad if it offers the chance to “break down stereotypes and give progress a chance.” The six former heads of Shin Bet agree that Israel must push for dialogue that will accommodate the Palestinians; this is the only way to achieve lasting security.
What can the rest of the world learn from this film? Perhaps that the stance of “we will not negotiate with terrorists” does not bring about greater security. Since 9/11, terrorism has continued to play a prominent role in international debates, in U.S. relations with other countries, and in wars around the globe. But the situation is never black and white. We are experiencing a new, more complex world, one that begs the question: is it time we change our tactics of dealing with terrorists in exchange for security? The answer may rest on taking the initial steps to open up dialogue.
In a rare occasion, “The Gatekeepers” exposed a different than expected side of the debate within Israel’s security apparatus. This film has nothing to do with defending Israel’s right to exist or its borders, but it centers on the improvement of Israeli society in a riveting manner because the criticism happens to come, not only from within its own borders, but from men whose careers centered on the protection of Israeli citizens and the elimination of terrorists elements. The six former heads of Shin Bet speak about their strengths, weaknesses and regrets over the course of their careers. All agreed, with minor differences, that Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza is ultimately bad for Israel. It takes a confident country to air its internal dialogue and tensions regarding security and human rights on an international stage. Will the Palestinians be willing to open up a similar dialogue?
And now that President Obama has completed his first ever trip to Israel as president; will he be able to bring new hope to the peace process? Or will the Holy Land find itself still embroiled in the same tragedy since 1967?
Leah Reiger is an executive office intern at the EastWest Institute’s New York Center.