Sundance Review: The Gatekeepers


In Israel’s Shin Bet, I find an intelligence agency not so different from the CIA. In Israel’s religious zealots, I find an extremist terrorist group not so different from the Taliban that our government tells us to fear.

The Gatekeepers is a compelling documentary because it dares to find transparency within an outfit that is employed to keep its actions secret. In opening up, the Shin Bet’s directors reveal truths about obligation, vengeance, regret, and mistakes made over the institute’s past 40+ years. These are truths that tell us a great deal about the Israel-Palestine conflict, reflecting America’s own current day practices.

The Gatekeepers
Director: Dror Moreh
Rating: NR
Country: Israel/Germany/Belgium/France
Release Date: February 1, 2013 (New York and Los Angeles)

Forget about morality, says a Shin Bet ex-director. Trying to move Palestinians without a home and interrogating suicide bombers with nothing to lose, Shin Bet operators are stuck in a seemingly endless loop of conflict with no foreseeable solution. When peace is made with Palestinians, Hamas and Islamic jihads arise. When the prime minister signs a peace treaty, his own people assassinate him and plan to bomb an Islamic dome.

Suppressing value judgements and emotions for decades, Shin Bet’s head operators have much to say during the interviews that compose The Gatekeepers. There are parallels to be made with our own government throughout. The vengeance driving the organization after the prime minister’s death brings to mind US’s blood lust for Osama bin Laden, for example. Things get especially unnerving when remote bombing is discussed. Only through trial-and-error did Shin Bet settle on what is the standard operating procedure for missile strikes on isolated targets, years after bombing 200+ innocents due to bad intel.

The Gatekeepers is a parable about how military occupation can give a governing body more than what it bargained for. With Palestinians raging outside their door, the conflict is now a mess of politics, personal vendettas, and religious beliefs that can’t be easily separated. Shin Bet’s most notable agents announce they are always open to talk to any and all threatening leaders. Force and covert operations haven’t been working out, after all.

Sound familiar?