The Shin Bet Sewer Cleaners

'The Gatekeepers' is no ordinary film against the occupation. It's a narrative history of the Shin Bet, told from the mouths of those who lived it first-hand.

Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn
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Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn

"The Gatekeepers” isn’t just another leftist protest film against the occupation. Far from it. Dror Moreh’s documentary is the semi-official history of Israel’s Shin Bet security service since 1967, told from the mouths of six of its former leaders. This is the service’s version of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is also the story of “the old elite,” which is fed up with the eternal war.

The film depicts the Shin Bet and its people as victims of a political leadership that has shirked a diplomatic decision on the future of the territories, preferring instead “the war on terror.” From the perspective of the Shin Bet directors, they were, in the words of the late senior Shin Bet official Yossi Ginosar, the “sewer cleaners” who kept terror at a level we could live with.

Moreh’s political stance is Rabinist: We will fight terror as though there were no diplomatic process and we will move ahead with the diplomatic process as though there were no terror. No wonder Yitzhak Rabin is given more screen time than the other prime ministers. Rabin’s assassination is depicted as the historical turning point when peace was lost. In this film, settlers are lawbreakers and the heads of Likud are inciters.

The narrative of the film is convenient for the Shin Bet and ignores the clashes between the directors of the service and the service to the rule of law. The bus 300 affair (the murder of two terrorists who hijacked a bus in 1984) is recounted in detail by the head of the service at the time, Avraham Shalom. But Moreh stops the story in the middle, failing to mention that evidence was faked at the commission of inquiry and that amnesties were granted to the murderers and those who covered for them.

"The Gatekeepers” does not tell about the systematic lies of the service’s investigators in the courts, as revealed by the Landau commission. Nor does it describe the High Court of Justice ruling that banned torture during investigations.

The Palestinians are depicted in the film as stereotypes: an Arab and a donkey in black and white, youths throwing stones, a screaming mob running behind an ambulance. Above all, they are as targets in clips of firing from unmanned aerial vehicles. Apparently this is how the Shin Bet people see their marks.

The service directors look like activists of the Mapai of yore – the major precursor of today’s Labor Party, with their open-collared shirts, sabra-Ashkenazi accents and minor mistakes in their Hebrew. I know them from my home: This is the community from which my parents came (Shalom went to high school with my mother and a cousin of hers who was a Shin Bet operative cousin is mentioned in passing in the film).

Like many of their friends in this community, the Shin Bet directors have also mellowed and abandoned their gung-ho, activist security mindedness. This is what happened to Shalom, to Ami Ayalon, to Carmi Gillon and to Yuval Diskin. Only Avi Dichter remains in love with war and regrets the assassinations that didn’t succeed.

Diskin is the tragic hero of “The Gatekeepers,” the father of the assassinations that torture him in his private moments. “Shooting and crying,” in the Shin Bet version. In his youth he was influenced by “If Israel Lost the War,” a disturbing alternative history of the Six-Day War. At the end of the book, the victorious Arabs hang Moshe Dayan and Levi Eshkol in Malkehi Yisrael Square (one of the authors was Robert Littell, father of the author of “The Kindly Ones”).

Today Diskin thinks that Yeshayahu Leibowitz was right in his angry prophecies and his railing against the occupation, which would destroy Israel from within.
Diskin mentions Robert McNamara, the American secretary of defense who led the Vietnam War until he regretted it and resigned, and his character served as an inspiration for the film. Like McNamara, who sobered up, Diskin too no longer believes the official version. His change of heart reveals the political fault line in Israel, which splits the war-loving right from the compromise-seeking left.

Watching this film, one understands why Diskin butted heads with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and why the prime minister, the enemy of “the old elites,” appointed as his successor Yoram Cohen, who wears a kippa. But even Netanyahu no longer believes Israelis can be mustered for wars and occupations. He now wants Israeli's defense to lean on fences, on Iron Domes, and to rely on "the gatekeepers" to continue to maintain the occupation.

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