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'The Gatekeepers' Offer Candid Assessment Of Israel's Security

By NPR Staff | 02/28/2013

Six former heads of the Shin Bet — Israel's security agency — speak to director Dror Moreh in his Oscar-nominated documentary The Gatekeepers. They are men who have signed off on brutal interrogations and targeted killings. They have given their lives to the cause of Israeli security.

What is striking is that all articulate their shared conviction that the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories will not lead to peace or a political solution for the future of the state of Israel.

"It was a long journey," Moreh tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies of his efforts to get the Shin Bet chiefs to talk. "I think it is timing, and the timing for them to speak was right. ... [Y]ou don't force people like that to speak. They came because they wanted — they understood — what I wanted to say, what I wanted to tell, and I think that the main reason for them to come is the fact that they felt that the state of Israel is walking in a path or in a route where it will only lead to a dire and bitter consequences for the existences for the state of Israel."

Moreh, once an Israeli soldier himself, says one of the reasons he made the film is because his own son is now about to join the Israeli military.

"My son is going to the army in two weeks from now," he says, "and for me to create that movie was the fear that he will have to be that young soldier running in those alleys, arresting people, going into their homes in the middle of the night. And what effect it will have on his soul? What effect it will have on his personality, a young boy that now just finished high school?"


Interview Highlights

On a 2003 speech, when the hawkish prime minister, Ariel Sharon, said Israel can't keep Palestinians under occupation indefinitely

"He had the ability to understand that his point of view did not serve the best interest of Israel, and he had the capability to change, to say, 'OK, this is as far as it goes, and if I am a leader who is worried for the future of the state of Israel ... I think that in the long run maintaining the occupation over the West Bank and Gaza is something that Israel cannot sustain for much longer, and I think it is for the best interest of Israel to move forward and to try.'

"I don't think that he really thought that the Palestinian administration that he was facing — namely [Yasser] Arafat — would be willing to or had the capability to reach peace, but he knew that this is for the best interest of Israel — internationally, domestically — to move forward and in a way to dismantle his life's work. As you said, this guy was the father of settlement, and he is the one that's taking his babies and saying, 'Enough.' "

On whether he believes Israel's political situation would be better had Sharon not had a stroke in January 2006

"I am absolutely, 1,000 percent sure [we would be] in a much better situation. The leaders that followed him — especially the current one, Benjamin Netanyahu — doesn't even reach his footsteps. ... We are in very, very bad situation in my point of view now. The lack of leadership on the Israeli horizon is the most devastating fact that the Israeli public is facing. Basically in the last elections there was no one to choose from for me, definitely, and I know that a lot of people in Israel feel the same way."

On what he learned about security officials while making the film

"If there is something I can say about security officials or people who have dealt with security all their lives, [it] is that they are practical. They have used security — they have used all the measures — in order to suppress any kind of terrorist activity. These are the guys — the guys that spoke in the film that have conducted targeted assassinations, tortured people in order to get intelligence ... and at the end of the day when they look at the Israeli society and they are saying in a loud and clear voice, 'Enough of the occupation. We cannot win this battle. We have to try to compromise. If we try to eat the whole cake and not share it we will lose.' And this fact surprised me completely, because you don't think this is what a security official will think."
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