The Gatekeepers (★★★★★ Empire Review)

GatekeepersSquarePLOT For the first time ever, the six surviving former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, discuss their work in counter-terrorism, reflecting on their role in state-sanctioned assassination in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza.

The Israel-Palestine question continues to provoke passionate discourse, and defy easy answers, sixty-five years after the State of Israel was founded in May 1948. Film has produced countless perspectives on the complex issue, as widely varied as Steven Spielberg’s Munich, the animated Waltz with Bashir, and, more recently, the Oscar-nominated documentary 5 Broken Cameras, each attempting to shed light on individual aspects of a difficult subject, both historical and contemporary. Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh’s extraordinary documentary, The Gatekeepers, offers a new and startling perspective, shedding light on Israel’s security and counter-terrorism activities since its decisive victory in 1967’s Six Day War.

It’s anybody’s guess how Moreh, who made a film about Ariel Sharon in 2008, convinced the six surviving heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence and counter-terrorism agency, to be interviewed on the record, but he makes the most of the opportunity. As each of the former heads discusses state-sanctioned assassinations, the bombings of terror suspects, the tragic yet inevitable civilian deaths classed as ‘collateral damage’, and the equally terrible consequences of hesitating when you have a potential bus bomber in your sights, it becomes increasingly clear that each of the men interviewed has a desperate need to explain their actions, if not excuse or atone for them. It’s almost impossible to overstate the significance of what unfolds: in British terms, it would be like having Nick Broomfield sit down with half a dozen former heads of MI6, all of whom admit to their role in the state-sponsored assassination of suspected terrorists, with no consideration for ethics, due process or the rule of law.

It’s incendiary stuff, illustrated and contextualised with extraordinary archive footage, computer simulations and enhanced photographs. There’s a whiff of The Fog of War in the way that Moreh extricates intimate confessions from his (mostly elderly) subjects, who reflect the futility and moral bankruptcy of answering violence with violence, the dubious policy of committing murder to prevent murder, and the inherent hopelessness of a situation with no easy solution, and no end in sight.

Insightful, revelatory and profound, Moreh’s Oscar-nominated documentary combines riveting interviews, archive footage and – yes – state-of-the-art photographic effects to offer a unique perspective on the Israel-Palestine issue. ★★★★★


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