|Six ex-heads of Shin Bet featured in ‘The Gatekeepers’.
I reflected upon the Academy Awards show as a whole in another venue. This is what I had to say about the documentary category, where two of the five finalists focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
[I]t was too bad that neither “5 Broken Cameras” nor “The Gatekeepers” won in the documentary category, but I had expected that they’d knock each other out in the ballot. Both are great in their way, and I’d have a hard time picking between them. If anything, “Cameras” and “Gatekeepers” complement each other, with the first focusing on Palestinians and the latter on Israelis. I haven’t seen “Searching for Sugar Man” (the winner), but it didn’t surprise me that it would win, as it was the only one of the five documentary nominees that was about a phenomenon rather than an issue….
“The Gatekeepers” theme is that Israel has concentrated upon security and counter-terrorism at the expense of pursuing a political solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. This is dramatically substantiated by intertwined selections from filmmaker Dror Moreh’s extensive interviews with all six living ex-directors of the Shin Bet or Shabak — Israel’s internal security agency, akin to the FBI in the US. (The Shin Bet also takes on some functioning in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that is analogous to that of the CIA and the military, through the use of drone aircraft for surveillance and the occasional assassination of terrorist faction leaders and fighters — dramatically illustrated at its outset with the video feed of one such incident.)
The Shin Bet’s failure to protect Rabin, which was mentioned, was an especially poignant and pivotal moment in the conflict. Rabin apparently ignored the suggestion that he wear a bullet-proof vest.
What was also pivotal was the ill-considered decision by Shimon Peres soon after to allow the Shin Bet to kill Yihya Ayyash, “the Engineer,” the Hamas master bombmaker. I don’t think that “The Gatekeepers” discusses the wisdom of this “hit,” which spurred bloody retaliatory attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, killing 60 Israelis and wiping out Peres’ 20 point lead over Netanyahu in the 1996 election. If Peres had held back (as I believe that Rabin would have), Netanyahu would not have been elected that first time and the Oslo process might have proceeded successfully with a full peace by 2000, as Peres had predicted.
Fittingly, following the Oscars award show, an article in The Forward relates that if “The Gatekeepers” had won an Oscar, its director Dror Moreh:
… intended to dedicate the award to the memory of the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin….
“He lost his life because he dared to dream of peace,” Moreh said, “and that is why I wanted to dedicate the prize to him.” The Israeli director added …. “It looks as if we might be on the verge of a third intifada and that shows us again that the conflict is alive and kicking even if people try to ignore it,” he said.
Among the thoughtful reviews I’ve seen of “The Gatekeepers” is this in the Washington Jewish Week and this in Tablet. Finally, I want to mention a more recent piece in the Open Zion blog by Matthew Kalman, who quotes former Shin Bet head Avi Dichter (one of the six “Gatekeepers”) on how Israel has historically inflamed tense situations with Palestinians, by using deadly force in reaction to rock throwers and other demonstrators:
Thirty-six Palestinians and Israeli Arabs were killed by Israeli police and troops in the first three days of the second intifada. The 2001 Mitchell Report notes: “the decision of the Israeli police on 29 September to use lethal means against the Palestinian demonstrators; and the subsequent failure… of either party to exercise restraint.” “We are not a lone player. We are very central,” said Dichter. “What does it depend on? The way in which we respond. When there are Friday prayers at the Temple Mount, or on other sensitive days, there is no doubt that an incorrect response by the security forces that causes fatalities among the crowds, and certainly on the Temple Mount, is a very serious event that can cause severe escalation up to an intifada.”
The events of September 29, 2000 have been the subject of endless discussion and varying interpretations. A senior Israeli official on duty at the scene told me that the situation spiraled out of control due to a series of mishaps that began when Jerusalem Police Commander, Yair Yitzhaki, was knocked unconscious by a rock hurled from a crowd as he walked across the Al-Aqsa plaza consult with Muslim leaders. Seconds later, the senior Border Police officer who should then have assumed command, suffered a broken hand and was incapacitated when he was hit by another rock. With both commanders down and the crowd advancing on them, the border police opened fire, killing four Palestinians. The killings sparked protests among Israeli Arab communities in the Galilee, where Israeli police also opened fire and killed more people.
The official told me that Israeli security tactics have changed since then. Dichter also said the lessons of the second intifada have been taken to heart.