The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has generated more than its share of war-weary, soul-drained participants, including several former directors of Shin Bet, Israel’s security agency, the subjects of Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh’s Oscar-nominated documentary The Gatekeepers.
While their reflections prove engaging and often riveting, Moreh devalues the tough decisions his subjects had to make by characterizing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as an illegitimate incursion into Palestinian territory rather than a necessary measure in a region that refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist. For instance, the film begins with a description of the Six-Day War in 1967 that ended with Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and other territories. Moreh never bothers to mention the attacks on Israeli territory from Arabs in the West Bank that precipitated the war.
His slanted perspective mars what are otherwise largely nuanced examinations of the challenges these leaders faced in keeping Israel safe. One operation involved dropping a one-ton bomb on a building that contained a known terrorist, successfully killing the terrorist but also killing several innocents in nearby buildings. When the opportunity later arose to eliminate about a dozen Hamas terrorist leaders meeting together, concern about collateral damage compelled then-prime minister Ariel Sharon to authorize only a quarter-ton bomb, which would kill anyone in the top floor of the building but leave the bottom floor intact. As then-director Avi Dichter laments, the terrorists were all on the first floor and survived, and some of them are still at large.
Agonizing decisions such as these have left many of these former directors committed to finding a peaceful, two-state solution, even if it means negotiations with Hamas. As another former director Yaakov Peri puts it, “these moments end up etched deep inside you, and when you retire, you become a bit of a leftist.”
This sentiment does not appear to hold true for Dichter, though. He acknowledges that by killing Hamas leaders, Israelis will suffer retaliation, but he strongly maintains that doing nothing will not end the violence. And so the struggle continues.