The Gatekeepers

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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

13 September

Rabin shakes hands with Arafat at the White House, 1993

On this day in 1993, Itzhak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, and Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, shook hands at the White House after signing the Oslo Accords. It was a historic moment. These modest proposals put in writing agreements about mutual recognition, the formation of a provisional Palestinian government, and Israel’s agreement to withdraw from some parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They wisely left thornier issues (the Jewish settlements, the future of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees) off the agenda. Though Bill Clinton was the host that day and basked in the resulting glow of publicity, much of the behind the scenes work was done by Norwegian politician Johan Jørgen Holst, who had a stroke shortly afterwards, possibly as a consequence of overwork, and never recovered. Though still officially in effect, the Oslo Accords have over time come to be seen as just more noise in the signal. The two sides remain at loggerheads.

The Gatekeepers (2012, dir: Dror Moreh)

A documentary comprising talking heads, almost entirely. But what talking heads they are – every living chief of the Shin Bet, Israel’s counter terrorist service. And what a story they tell – the backroom view on every significant twist in the story of Israel from the Six Days’ War to the present day. They’re an interesting mix of people, urbane, thuggish, angry, calm, the many faces of the Bond villain, in fact. But what they say is even more interesting – about the use of torture, the nature of the Palestinian foe, the trouble they had/have with terrorists from their own side, what should be done about the settlements, and so on. It is eye-opening stuff, not least because you suspect that interviewer/director Dror Moreh was asking questions in the full expectation that they wouldn’t be answered, only to find his interviewees happy (some more grudgingly happy, admittedly) to set the record straight. Regardless of whether you are Jew or not, partisan or not, interested or not, The Gatekeepers is a fascinating and remarkable film providing acute  (and even entertaining) insight into issues rarely dealt with in such a head-on manner.

Why Watch?

  • Dror Moreh never expected any former or current Shin Bet head to take part. In the end they all did
  • People at the frontline of any conflict have knowledge and experience the rest of us don’t
  • In many end of year lists the best documentary of 2012

The Gatekeepers – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2013

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