The Gatekeepers is a 2012 documentary about Israel’s secret service agency, the Shin Bet.
(I watched it a second time, to glean a few more facts and add some quotes at the end.)
Read the NY Times book review here.
The filmmaker, Dror Moreh, interviewed the six men who have served as head of the Shin Bet from its beginnings in 1948. The fact that these men agreed to be interviewed is absolutely stunning. The interviews are supplemented by footage of the events described.
The Shin Bet (Shabak) is Israel’s intelligence organization (internal security), parallel to the Mossad (foreign security). Neither of these is part of the IDF, Israel Defense Force. Each reports directly to the Prime Minister.
I watched the movie with a legal pad in my lap, and scribbled 6 pages of notes. So many of these events occurred in my lifetime, yet I know too little about them. I included some significant dates along with the quotes that jumped out at me. I’ll post them in case it’s helpful to other people.
The movie is chunked into 7 segments.
To begin, Shin Bet’s recent leader (2005-2011) Yuval Diskin says: “What’s unnatural is the power you have.” (referring to the power to arrest and kill Palestinians)
1. No Strategy, Just Tactics covering the emerging role of the Shin Bet from the Six-Day War and the occupation of the Palestinian territories.
1967 — after the Six Day War there were 1 million Palestinians. (a conservative number)
“Luckily for us, terrorism increased — we no longer had to deal with a Palestinian state.”
They used an “identifier technique.” They interrogated “tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands.” To be successful, they had to “convince someone to betray” their cause, to do something they would never imagine they would do.
The Israelis “never took the Palestinians into consideration.” “No strategy, just tactics.”
2. Forget About Morality about the Bus 300 affair.
1982 — the IDF invaded southern Lebanon and the Shin Bet controlled Lebanon, replacing the Mossad.
1984 — four Palestinians hijacked a bus, and the Shin Bet executed two of them on the spot, and later killed the other two. “It was a lynching” said Avraham Solomon (who was forced to resign over the incident). It was a failure of leadership from the Cabinet and Prime Minister. “There were no morals, just tactics.”
3. One Man’s Terrorist Is Another Man’s Freedom Fighter about the peace process following the Oslo Accords.
1987-91 was the First Intifada, when the Palestinians attempted to launch a revolution. “Only live fire could stop them.” The Shin Bet failed to see the coming of the Intifada.
4. Our Own Flesh and Blood about Jewish terrorism, including the Jewish Underground and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin
1994 — the first suicide bombing was on a bus in Tel Aviv. The Shin Bet increased their interrogation. They “handcuffed people in a degrading position” and shook them. PM Rabin had to decide whether to focus on the peace process or on terror interrogations.
Since 1974 (note that date) the Israeli government has been turning its head as illegal Jewish settlers have been allowed to move into Palestinian land, and to harass Palestinians.
The Jewish ideologues had access to the Knesset, and planned attacks to kill Palestinians. There was an attack on the Dome of the Rock by the Jewish Underground, intending to bring about the War of Armageddon. A few individuals were tried and convicted but quickly released by the Knesset.
1995 — Assassination of PM Rabin by Yigal Amir. After Rabin died, there was “chasm and hatred.” But no lessons. “The rabbis have no reason to learn any lesson.”
After the great fiasco of losing Rabin, now the Shin Bet “relies on force rather than our brain.” So began a new generation of computer surveillance. There had been some cooperation between Israel and Palestinians who believed in the hope of a Palestinian state, but now there was no good faith on either side.
5. Victory Is to See You Suffer about negotiations with the Palestinians during the Second Intifada
2002 — the Second Intifada. The quote is what a Palestinian prisoner said to a leader of the Shin Bet: “Victory is to see you suffer.” Hopelessness increases.
6. Collateral Damage about the assassination of Yahya Ayyash and other prominent Hamas militants
Hamas had an explosives expert named Yahya Ayyash who had many essential skills: he could make IEDs that were very powerful, he could convince people to commit suicide for the cause, and he had amazing survival skills. Targeting him was Shin Bet’s top priority. In Gaza they were able to put explosives in his cell phone and kill him. It was a clean hit, but Shin Bet was no longer able to talk to Hamas.
Next Shin Bet targeted Salah Shehade, who they killed by dropping a one-ton bomb on a bus, which killed many innocent people.
There is a kind of “banality of evil” a “kind of conveyor belt.”
After the pushback from killing to many innocents when they targeted Salah Shehade, they tried to avoid innocent deaths. When Shin Bet knew that Hamas leadership was having a Dream Team kind of meeting on Sept 6, 2003, they elected to drop a quarter-ton bomb on the house instead of a one-ton bomb. The result was that they didn’t kill anyone.
7. The Old Man at the End of the Corridor consisting of reflections on the activities of the Shin Bet and their ethical and strategic impact on the State of Israel
There was a difference of opinion between the leaders of Shin Bet about targeted killings.
“You can’t make peace using military means. Peace must be built on a system of trust. after, or without using military means in the end you must build it on a system of trust. As someone who knows the Palestinians well, I know that there should be no problem building a system of trust with them, a genuine one.” ~ Avi Dichter
“For Israel it’s too much of a luxury not to speak with our enemies. As long as they decide not to speak to us, I have no choice, but when we decide not to speak, I think we’re making a mistake.” ~ Carmi Gillon
Q: Do you think we should speak to anyone?
A: “Anyone we can, even if they answer rudely, I’m for continuing. There is no alternative to talking. Hamas? I said everyone . . . even Amhadinejad . . .” ~ Avraham Shalom
Some quoted Prof. Leibowitz who said in 1968, by way of prediction: “We are making the lives of millions unbearable.” We will create “prolonged human suffering.”
Liebowitz also said: The corruption found in every colonial regime will affix itself to the State of Israel.
Avraham Shalom identified as a problem: having such young people in the army. They are brutal. He compared them to the Germans in WWII, not in their treatment of Jews, but in their treatment of every people group. “It is a very negative trait that we acquired, to be — I won’t say it — cruel. To ourselves as well.” They excused their behavior by claiming a war on terror. (Sound familiar?)
“The future is very dark,” says Avraham Shalom. (of course, others point to this particular leader as being uniquely cruel in his tenure, a true bully).
“We win every battle but lose the war.” ~ Ami Ayalon
Amen. And so it shall be until we learn peace.