Sanitation workers do extremely dirty but necessary work; so, too, do Shin Bet security service agents. But whereas garbagemen are considered inferior, Shin Bet employees enjoy an aura of prestige and esteem.
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Oh, how we applaud our spooks. Two Shin Bet chiefs have gone on to become cabinet ministers; one is a successful businessman, an occasional trumpet player and a mega-celebrity who could soon be a Knesset member and cabinet member himself.
Their world has been exposed as never before: "Shom'ray Ha'Saf" ("The Gatekeepers" in English), Dror Moreh's impressive documentary whose Israeli premiere was held this weekend at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, reaches local theaters already decorated with international awards. Its heroes, all six surviving former Shin Bet heads, graced the premiere with their presence and were rewarded, of course, with applause - cultural heroes or not.
This jolting film is a must-see: A feeling of nausea and of deep disgust wells up at its end. "The Gatekeepers," together with another important movie, Ra'anan Alexandrowicz's "Shilton Hahok" (in English, "The Law in These Parts" ) - both of them long overdue - reveal the terrible truth behind the occupation enterprise according to those who are responsible for it in the military justice system, and according to the former heads of the Shin Bet, in "The Law in These Parts" and "The Gatekeepers," respectively.
These figures present Israel (and the world ) with a very disturbing and frightening picture. It is no longer only Israel's detractors who are comparing the Israel Defense Forces with the Nazis. Now, albeit with certain reservations, Avraham Shalom is doing so as well. No longer is it only Israel's despised leftists who brandish the prophecies of philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz about the corrosive effects of the occupation and its power to turn Israel into a "Shin Bet state"; now, with certain reservations, Yuval Diskin admits it as well - and both Shalom and Diskin ignore the fact that they were among the parties who were responsible for the transgression.
The six former Shin Bet chiefs admit to being blinkered, to failing to examine the wider consequences of their actions. The six former Shin Bet chiefs also come together to create something resembling a mafia movie. All of them speak like dons: Jacob Perry with honeyed words, Diskin with unpolished speech, Shalom with blunt talk.
"In Nablus you could throw a rock at random and hit a terrorist as easily as a cat ... and we left with considerably booty," Perry says, describing his old stomping grounds.
There's Shalom on the killing of the two terrorists in the Bus 300 affair, while they were in restraints after being captured: He was told they "nearly died" from being beaten, so he merely gave the little order "to finish the job" - and he became a victim of the political leadership. (The 1984 incident led to Shalom's dismissal as Shin Bet head.)
They were only subcontractors in the war on terror. They knew that what they were doing was not only inhumane, immoral ("There is no morality," declares Shalom" ) and sometimes illegal as well; they knew that their actions caused more than a few disasters for Israel, alongside the successes, but they were silent.
Now, when it is too late, they remember to speak, and even then not courageously enough.
Now they remember to say that the Palestinian problem cannot be solved with force, that every assassination engendered a more radical replacement, that they and their agents interrogated and tortured tens of thousands of Palestinians, "perhaps hundreds of thousands," and that the entire business was pointless.
Rolling their eyes, they pass responsibility on to the political leadership, whose role they scorned, as if they could not have influenced much more, or tortured and assassinated much less. As if they did not know at the time that alongside the successful counter-terror operations, the question of how much terror their cruel methods ignited cried out for an answer. How many new terrorists were born in the interrogation cells in which tens of thousands of people were shaken, beaten, bound, humiliated and tortured with the monstrous methods whose use they have admitted.
There are countries in which individuals who are responsible for similar deeds have been prosecuted; in others they at least expressed remorse years later. Not so for our Shin Bet heads. Here they are welcome guests in every news studio or party, celebrities whose opinions are valued, stars who decorate party slates, national heroes no one would think to repudiate. The gatekeepers of Israel, if ever they really were that, who have remained just as they were - without prickings of conscience, without conscience at all and without regrets. Why should they behave any differently? After all, Israel continues to cheer them on.