Dror Moreh, the director of the acclaimed documentary The Gatekeepers, which may
well receive an Oscar nomination this week, will have to spend the rest of his
life answering one particular question, but he’s pretty upbeat about
“This is what everyone asks me: How did I get them to talk?” he says,
referring to the interview subjects in The Gatekeepers: the six surviving heads
of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service.
which is playing both in Israel and abroad, has made numerous critics’ 10 Best
lists, including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Hollywood
Reporter. On Saturday, the film was named best documentary by the National
Society of Film Critics in the US.
The film is a
masterful combination of interviews, newsreel footage and computer-enhanced
Israelis may find it shocking that several of the men make
statements that echo slogans of the far Left, and it has inspired a national
debate on editorial pages here.
It turns out it was easier than you might
expect to get the Shin Bet heads – who know a thing or two about conducting
interrogations – to open up themselves.
“I knew I wanted to do a film
that will involve people from inner circles of defense, and I wanted it to be
people from the Shin Bet,” he says, because “their raison d’etre is dealing with
the Palestinian issue and security issues and that’s what I wanted to look
When he was making a documentary about Ariel Sharon in 2003 (the
film was released in 2008) he spoke with Sharon about criticisms that several
former heads of the Shin Bet – Ami Ayalon, Avraham Shalom, Carmi Gillon and
Ya’akov Peri – had leveled at him in interviews.
“Sharon said it had a
huge impact on him. It came from the heart of the defense establishment. He knew
these people personally,” he recalls.
Later, Moreh saw the Errol Morris
film, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S.
A large part of the film was interviews with McNamera, about
what he had done as US Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War. Moreh was
intrigued and thought about making a similar film that would feature interviews
with former heads of the Shin Bet.
“Ami Ayalon saw the film [Fog of War]
and said, ‘I’ll deal with you, I’m coming aboard.’ And he gave me the phone
numbers of the five of them. They all asked me, ‘Why do you want to make this
film?’ and I told them, ‘Because you are the most responsible for maintaining
the security of Israel.’” That, and Ayalon’s recommendation, apparently did the
trick. Ayalon, Shalom, Gillon, Peri and Avi Dichter all agreed to be
interviewed, and Yuval Diskin, who was still the head of the Shin Bet, consented
after his term was finished.
“There were no ground rules for the
interviews,” says Moreh. Except for one in the case of Avraham Shalom, who
resigned in disgrace over the killing of terrorists captured alive in the
hijacking of Bus No. 300 in the Eighties.
“He didn’t want me to
ask about Bus 300,” and Moreh agreed. But he kept pushing and Shalom did
eventually agree to speak about the incident, although his answers are
This part of the interview with Shalom is not likely to inspire
sympathy for him, but Moreh has clearly come to empathize with all his
“This was the toughest part for me, with Avraham Shalom. It
wasn’t easy for him to confront a thing like that. It ruined his
Moreh interviewed each man for about 16 hours and says what
surprised him most about them was “the gap between what I thought about them and
what they were actually like. There’s this persona you create for yourself of
this powerful man and then there’s the person you meet. It was a shock for me
each time how complex they are, how deep they are, and how
It’s interesting to examine all these questions through the
eyes of a pragmatic person.”
For Moreh, their pragmatism and experience
was what made their words important.
“When these criticisms of policy
come from these men, people can’t dismiss them. It’s not coming from Amos Oz or
David Grossman” whom people on the political Right won’t listen to. “You can
love them or hate them,” Moreh says of his subjects, “but they know more than
anyone about what goes on. They are pragmatists who love
This description could apply to the filmmaker himself. Moreh,
51, served in a secret IAF unit and then went on to study film and work as a
cinematographer on many movies before beginning his own directing career. He is
currently working on a book based on the film, and a five-part series on Channel
One that will be an expanded version. Following the film’s international
success, Moreh has received a number of offers, but he says he’s putting those
on hold until he finishes everything connected to The Gatekeepers
end, Moreh says making the film taught him that “power can lead you only to a
certain point. In the Errol Morris film, he says, ‘Learn from your mistakes.’ I
wish our leaders would understand that. I’m not lifting the blame from the
Palestinians. But I wanted to make a film about the Israeli side. I hope one day
a Palestinian will make a film about the Palestinian side of this.”The
Gatekeepers is currently being screened at cinematheques throughout the countr