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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

We're Going Wrong: a film review of The Gatekeepers

from the Honolulu Weekly

We’re Going Wrong

Six heads of Israel’s spy agency come out.


You read the papers; know what this movie is going to be about. Some retired heads of Israeli intelligence talking about the Palestinian stalemate? You can write this is your sleep. The obligatory expressions of concern and empathy, then the tearful outrage at suicide bombings, then the twinkle in the eye and the chuckle in the voice as the old pros reminisce about their favorite coups–the bomb in the cell phone being a real crowd pleaser. And that indeed is what we get in The Gatekeepers, Dror Moreh’s documentary, which brings six men who’ve never spoken about their work, the successive heads of Shin Bet, before the tribunal of a microphone and a movie camera.

Only it’s not what you expect. All of the above does happen (and that cell phone is still enough to make you want to switch back to a landline), just not in service of justifying the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Eloquent, serious men who can barely muster a smile among them, the Shin Bet spymasters have independently come out as–well, as one says with a snort, “retirement has made me a liberal.”

Any satisfaction this admission may give is counterbalanced by The Gatekeepers’s distillation of the last 45 years of tit-for-tat provocations, killings, bombings. Israel was supposed to return the West Bank and Gaza after the 1967 War. It didn’t. Instead, it gave itself custody of a million Palestinians and a moral abscess that has now poisoned the country.

Visually, the film is better, terser and less “video-gamey” than Zero Dark Thirty, which pales into insignificance against it. What the Mac Guff studio and Moreh can do to a single photograph, taking us inside it and reenacting a rescue attempt on a hijacked bus, putting us in the first-person-shooter seat, will give you the creeps.

Way over here in Hawaii our existential worries are about potholes and North Korean mushroom farms. The whole Israel-Palestine thing at times feels like a snub of the Pacific Rim; but it should not deter you from checking out this film, because it’s really about us as well as them.

Consider the drone. Consider the solo console operator sitting in a darkened trailer in Henderson, Nevada, who has to decide whether to take out an Afghan in an SUV. He’s doing this in our name. For us, by us, so we shall–I guess–not perish from the face of the earth. And so he obtains clearance over a fiber-optic hookup to the Pentagon, and, with the National Security Advisor listening in from the office next to the Oval Office where they do these things, releases the hellfire. Scratch one family. Punch the clock, go home for a dinner with your own spouse and kids, then a little TV and so to bed. Where, thanks to the vigilance of our protectors, the only thing we have to fear is our nightmares.

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