Written in Ink

The Gatekeepers trailer

I know this post won't convince anyone to see it if they weren't already interested, but 'The Gatekeepers' is one of the best, most engrossing documentaries I've ever seen. It's a series of interviews with the living former chiefs of Israel's counter-terrorism group, the Shin Bet, which is more powerful than Mossad.

I wasn't planning to see it, but a movie theater mix-up left this the only timely option, so I went in not expecting much. What surprised me was how thoughtful and conflicted these guys all are. You would think (or I did, anyway) that they would be the most hardcore, no-holds-barred anti-terrorist, anti-Palestinian people you'd ever meet. But they are really smart, nuanced, strategic thinkers. So much of the political rhetoric that comes out of Israel leads me to think Netanyahu is universally admired, and maybe among the voters he is (although I know he didn't do so well in the last elections). But these leaders of Shin Bet, they have very little respect for politicians and especially what they perceive to be weak, ignorant, extremist politicians. Partly that's because they've been sold out by politicians, but also because they have really interesting things to say about negotiation and the people in the occupied territories, and about the extremists on Israel's right wing.


When one of the former chiefs effectively admits to ordering the murder of two terrorists who had surrendered and were in custody, it's appalling and awful. He's not sorry, either. But he explains his reasoning (which you may or may not actually buy), and he doesn't back down a bit, even under questioning from the interviewers. And then, as the interviews go on, he makes points that run totally contrary to that single act, and the complexity of state-based morality comes into focus in a very real, immediate way.

You also realize just how many of our own politicians are making the same mistakes, and are citing Israel as an example of how we should behave, without acknowledging at all that Israel has been stalemated in a virtual state of war for, basically, 30 years. But our politicians neglect to admit that that's the fate that could await any nation that simply has an open-ended war on terror that does nothing but build up a massive, imperfect security apparatus and unleash questionable death in places far away.

If you see it on NetFlix or something, I really recommend it. I never pretend to really understand why Israel finds itself under attack, why the Palestinians are so relentless about their campaigns of violence, why the Israelis respond the way they do, or why their voters vote the way they do. I just don't know the history in enough detail to form long-term opinions on it all. But, in the course of this movie, you'll get the story of the last 30 years told to you by people who know it, in a way that isn't dry or dull, but surprisingly alive and real, and even humorous in many spots. It may not change any of your opinions, but you can't help but learn a lot in the process.

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