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Film review: THE GATEKEEPERS, from Built For Speed

The Shin Bet is the Israeli internal security service which, since its inception in 1948 has been primarily responsible for counter-terrorism and covert operations within Israel and Palestine. The documentary, The Gatekeepers, features the men who led the agency for various periods during the last 30 years and represents the first time Shin Bet leaders have spoken publicly about their work.

The six interviewees’ candid and diverse opinions provide a fascinating insight into Israeli security operations in a time when conflict between Israel and Palestine began to spiral out to control. The interviewees calmly discuss bombings, political assassinations and cultivation of spies within Palestine and provide astonishing, frightening but occasionally hopeful insights into the mindset of the Israeli security apparatus.

Much of the film examines the roots and progression of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the sadly abortive attempts at peace. The interviewees suggest that, to a large extent, the conflict is perpetuated by extremists on both sides. The film describes both the bombing of Israeli buses by the Palestinian terrorists but also Israeli terrorism such as a thwarted Jewish underground plot to blow up the Islamic Dome Of The Rock in Jerusalem in an attempt to invoke a holy war.

The Shin Bet leaders not only provide remarkable insights into operational procedures but also views on the morality and logic of Israel’s policy and actions. At one point they discuss the strange contradictory policies of conducting a war on terror as if the peace process didn’t exist but continuing with the peace process as if terrorism didn’t exist.

The men suggest that at the heart of philosophies and political mechanisms that undermine attempts at peace is a quest for simple binary “yes or no” solutions that creates an inflexible attitude that almost precludes any chance of a peaceful resolution.

Many of the interviewees are initially stoic in their defence of Shin Bet and Israel’s counter-terrorism and interrogation methods but encouragingly, some begin to critique this approach and lament the damage wrought by the tit-for-tat policy of retaliation with Palestine.

Although it includes confronting archival footage of the Arab-Israeli conflict and imposing stylised graphics that depict interrogation rooms and Orwellian command centres, the film is mostly comprised of talking-head interviews in a style that becomes repetitive.   Also, with subtitled Hebrew and rapid shifts between the six interviewees, it’s occasionally hard to pick up every detail of what they are saying.

Still this is a fascinating and at times disturbing insight into a fraught country and the people entrusted with the onerous and morally ambiguous task of protecting it.

Nick’s rating: Three and a half stars.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Dror Moreh.

Release date: 5th Sept 2013.

Running time: 101  mins.

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