Dror Moreh’s documentary, The Gatekeepers, could have been a profound film.
Moreh uses his interviews with six former directors of Israel’s top
security services to send a simplistic and deeply partisan political
message: If Israel withdraws from the West Bank, terrorism will subside
and peace will break out.
To promote this message, the
documentary engages in intellectual dishonesty and omits critical
context. While most Israelis know the wider context, the average viewer
probably does not, and therefore is vulnerable to the filmmaker’s biased
version of the facts.
Though the film tries to portray Israel’s
antiterrorism policies as counterproductive and cruel, the interviews
inadvertently tell a different story. The six directors are well-spoken,
deeply thoughtful, and genuinely self-critical.
They exude gravitas as they describe wrestling with the moral quandaries they regularly faced.
are not cruel men. They sincerely grappled with how to protect Israelis
and Palestinian civilians alike. Their descriptions of the Shin Bet’s
legal and ethical constraints are a testament to Israel’s high moral
standards. Their comfort in speaking freely is a testament to Israel’s
However, the film repeatedly ignores history
and context. It blames Israel for the Palestinian hostility and violence
that occurred after 1967, when Israel began administering the West
The viewer never learns from the film that terrorism
against Jews and Israelis was not a result of Israel’s administration
but rather has been a regular feature of life since pre-state days.
Arabs murdered over 1,000 Jews between 1920 and 1967, and they
ethnically cleansed all Jewish communities from the areas they captured
during the 1948 war, including the West Bank, Gaza and eastern
Jerusalem. The pattern of terrorism simply continued after Israel’s
victory in its 1967 defensive war. Yasser Arafat organized 61 Fatah
military operations from the West Bank in the few months after the war,
and 162 Israelis were killed by terrorists between 1968 and 1970.
and verbally, the film portrays Israel as a heartless occupier.
Audiences get no information about how harsh life was for Palestinians
under Egyptian and Jordanian rule between 1948 and 1967, with rampant
childhood diseases, economic stagnation and restricted civil and
political rights. In addition, the documentary completely overlooks the
big picture of positive Israeli-Palestinian relations after 1967.
as Israel sought to stop terrorists, it also instituted Palestinian
municipal self-government and administration, introduced freedom of
speech and association, and vastly modernized the Palestinian economy as
well as Palestinian health, welfare and education, turning the West
Bank and Gaza into the world’s fourth fastestgrowing economy in the
1970s and 1980s.
In line with his political agenda, Moreh tries
to paint all religious Israelis, settlers and rightof- center parties as
extremist and intransigent.
The film insinuates that just as
many Palestinians are terrorists and incite hatred, so do many Jews. For
proof, Moreh magnifies selected incidents, particularly the case of
Jewish settlers from Hebron who formed the “Jewish Underground” in 1980.
film would have audiences believe the Jewish Underground, which wounded
two Palestinian mayors, murdered three Palestinians, and plotted to
blow up four Palestinian buses and the Dome of the Rock, is fairly
representative of most settlers. It is not. Save for the handful of
members of the Jewish Underground, Israel does not have Jewish terrorist
While extremists exist in Israel as in any
society, the overwhelming majority of settlers, both religious and
secular, are law-abiding citizens.
The country as a whole
condemns and marginalizes such extremism. The Shin Bet arrested the
Jewish Underground leaders in 1984, and the Israeli government and the
vast majority of Israelis, including other settlers, denounced the
group, though some Israeli leaders at the time continued to express
concerns about the lack of government protection for Hebron’s Jews.
because the sentences meted out to the Jewish Underground’s leaders
were commuted, the film implies that the Israeli government has been
“soft” on Jewish extremists and uses double standards, treating
Palestinian terrorists far more leniently than Jewish terrorists.
these members were freed only after serving almost seven years, not
because Israel was “soft” on Jewish terrorists but because Israel had
released the very Palestinian prisoners who had perpetrated the attacks
that drove the Jewish Underground to organize.
SUCH OMISSIONS of
fact and context continue throughout the film. Moreh makes the Shin
Bet’s actions seem immoral or counterproductive by minimizing the
context of terrorism.
Moreh glosses over the impact of the second
intifada (2000-2005), yet the horrors of its terrorism and the
fanatical hatred that motivated suicide bombers decimated Israel’s peace
camp, a critical fact that the film simply overlooks. The audience does
not learn that almost 1,100 Israelis were murdered and thousands more
maimed by terrorists during the second intifada.
disappointingly, the film never alludes to the daunting challenge these
Shin Bet directors faced. Israel is fighting terrorists who routinely
hide among Palestinian civilians precisely to shield themselves from IDF
attacks because they know the IDF tries to avoid harming innocent
bystanders. Pressed by the interviewer to admit that the Shin Bet’s
actions were immoral during his tenure (1981-1986), Avraham Shalom
finally snaps back: “This isn’t about morality.... When the terrorists
become moral, we’ll be moral.”
Nor does the film depict the
nature of the enemy Israel faces. Hamas' genocidal ideology never comes up in the interviews. Yet the goals of Hamas, clearly expressed in its charter and its leaders' statements, call for the murder of Jews and the "obliteration" of Israel, and are suffused with anti-Semitism. The film
ignores the relentless incitement to hate and kill Jews that pervades
Palestinian society officially and unofficially.
The film never
explores the significance of what one Shin Bet director heard from a PLO
terrorist he interrogated: terrorists consider it a victory when they
make Jews suffer.
More disturbingly, the viewer never learns that
Israel has repeatedly tried to do precisely what Moreh advocates. The
film never mentions Israel’s offers to trade land for peace in 1967,
1979, 2000 and 2008, or that Palestinian leaders systematically rejected
Moreh wants audiences to share his wishful
thinking, that Israel can end the conflict simply by withdrawing from
the West Bank. But recent history, omitted from the film, contradicts
this expectation. Israel pulled out of its security zone in Lebanon in
2000 and removed every settlement and over 8,000 Israelis from Gaza in
2005. The results were escalating threats and terrorism from Iranian
proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon and from Iranian client Hamas in Gaza, which
fired over 13,000 rockets and mortars into Israel’s southern communities
between 2005 and 2012.
The documentary should be credited for
revealing how much Israelis have retained their humanity and their hopes
for peaceful coexistence, as exemplified by the Shin Bet directors.
is a tribute to the Israeli spirit and to Israel’s enduring search for
peace, but it also underscores Israel’s tragic dilemma: Israelis want
peace, but they cannot find partners for peace unless, like Moreh, they
turn a blind eye to the ongoing hostility and threats against them.
effort to blame Israel and the Shin Bet’s actions for the ongoing
hostility to the Jewish state is like blaming the victim who is
defending himself instead of blaming the perpetrator.
Gatekeepers‘ material could have produced a profound film if it had not
been sacrificed for a political message and if the film had been more
intellectually honest and included the historical pattern of genocidal
ideology, the ongoing violence, and the existential strategic challenges
that Israel faces every day. It is these hard realities and that make
the Shin Bet’s work so crucial and so heroic.
Roz Rothstein is
the CEO and co-founder of StandWithUs. Roberta Seid, PhD, is the
research and education director of StandWithUs.