Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Gatekeepers

Last year there was Ra'anan Alexandrowicz's The Law In These Parts, interviews with Israeli military judges and prosecutors. Much of the evidence against the Palestinians prosecuted and tried by them came from Shin Bet (aka Shabak or GSS). This year Dror Moreh interviews six retired heads of Shin Bet in The Gatekeepers. While the earlier documentary gave us information on how that part of the machinery of the military occupation works, this one gives us a glimpse into another component of that machinery. Dror Moreh says he was inspired by The Fog of War, hence he is less interested in the detail of how Shin Bet works than in the opinions of 6 men who know more about Palestinians than other Israelis and also know more about Israeli actions and decision making from Israeli prime ministers, the IDF, Jewish settlers and terrorists to their own Shin Bet operations.

The six are:
1980-1986 Avraham Shalom
1988-1994 Yaakov Peri
1994-1996 Carmi Gillon
1996-2000 Ami Ayalon
2000-2005 Avi Dichter
2005-2011 Yuval Diskin
Don't expect any major mea culpas. Their job was to prevent Palestinian terrorism against Israel, more accurately frustrate or deter it where possible and to take revenge when desired. Shin Bet's role does not extend to resolving Palestinian issues with Israel. They see their role as preventing Israeli deaths while the politicians solve the political problems. They see any Israeli death as a failure, by that measure they know they did their job well but not perfectly. Avraham Shalom was the most reluctant, but they admitted that Shin Bet was not perfect in a legal or moral sense either. What really annoyed these guys was the failure of Israeli Prime Ministers to solve issues between Israel and Palestinians. In their view from David Ben-Gurion to Yitzhak Shamir, Israeli Prime Ministers did not acknowledge there was an issue to solve and, with the exception of Yitzhak Rabin who made an effort, none since have tried hard enough to resolve the conflict. Since 1967 they see their role as providing safety to Israeli civilians until the politicians came up with a solution. What they didn't see (or perhaps saw but didn't acknowledge) was that Shin Bet's success in keeping a lid on Palestinian frustration allowed successive Israeli governments to do nothing, or worse.

If there is one group of Israelis these guys detested more than their Prime Ministers it is rabbis who incite their congregations. Carmi Gillon in particular, who dealt with the rise of Jewish terrorism and the assassination of Rabin, was particularly bitter over the very early release from prison of most of the Jewish terrorists Shin Bet had uncovered and brought to trial, due to their political and religious connections.

While Ami Ayalon admitted that from a Palestinian point of view he was a terrorist, and while there was an admission that many of the missions were revenge rather than prevention all six were reluctant to admit that there was a circle of revenge Jew against Palestinian against Jew against Palestinian and so on. I presume they didn't want to see themselves as a factor in fuelling the terrorism they were charged with preventing.

At one point there was a brief discussion on the philosophy of terrorism prevention. If you kill or lock up enough terrorists or prospective terrorists then you will eventually reach the bottom of the barrel. You won't get the last few terrorists but they will either be deterred or too few to cause much trouble. This seems to be the Bush-Obama strategy too. Between Jews and Palestinians we've had 130 odd  years and no sign of the bottom of the barrel. Perhaps solving the political issues may be a better approach.

There is some detail on how Shin Bet operates and how that has changed as technology has improved (in particular the use of drones). At the base is detailed background information on an area: maps, building plans, who lives where and who knows who, how society is structured (families, clans, organisations etc). Ongoing information on people's movements, phone tapping and internet monitoring are hinted at but not discussed. More intrusively there are searches, interrogation, and "getting people to tell you what they don't want to tell you" (blackmail, intimidation, torture etc). To find out what a person of interest is up to look at their associates and pick one that is susceptible to being "turned" -- even if you have done nothing wrong you still have plenty to fear from Shin Bet. On top of that there are arrests, imprisonment, torture and assassinations. It is no surprise Palestinians hate Shin Bet more than they hate the IDF. During the occupation of Lebanon, Shin Bet applied the same techniques there and the film boasts that they quickly controlled "everything that went on in Lebanon".

Ian's rating 5/5

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