Dir: Dror Moreh
The Gatekeepers in question are the men who have headed up the ‘Shin Bet’. It’s an organisation you’ve probably not heard of, but as their job inhabits the shadows of counter-espionage – the prevention of terrorism in the Middle East – this is to be expected. Indeed, the very fact of a general audience’s ignorance only emphasises the covert nature of their working lives from the opening, providing a satisfying set up.
The Israel Security Agency (to give the official title) is the unit charged with monitoring, protecting and defending the state in the long history of conflict that has plagued its borders with Palestine and the Gaza strip. Here all surviving leaders of the agency readily line up to reveal how they dealt with the exceptional pressure the role exerts, the murky moral swamp that has to be headed into, and the toll it inevitably takes on the psyche. These are men grappling with the highest dilemmas and ramifications of “power, but by whose right?”
The film combines often-harrowing footage and is inventive with the photographic record. Right from the off we are faced with shocking aerial recordings of air strikes, imagery more familiar to us jaded westerners from the fantasy world of computer games. When the narrator reflects on the unavoidable issue of collateral damage and the hoped for ‘sterility’ of the ‘operation’ you realise the very real burden these men are forced to carry. These medical euphemisms of course deliberately belie the entirely unclean nature of an air-to-ground missile attack. You cannot help but wonder if the speaker is trying to convince you, the viewer, or himself. Added to this, stills are brought wildly to life, given a 3D treatment as the camera wheels within them, ironically providing the film’s most cinematic moments. An otherwise pure documentary, it would be equally successful on the small screen if not for these creative and outlandish forays.
The unasked question that patently hangs over the entire venture without ever being vocalised is that of the morals of the ‘gatekeepers’ themselves. It is almost too sensitive, too complicated, too obvious to broach. As one contemptuously grunts in rejection “when you are dealing with terrorists, forget morals.” Subject dismissed.
All, in their own ways, seem eager to be taking part. What strikes is the avuncular candidness of all. Some are jovial, some passionately animated, but none manage to fully hide their haunted nature. This detailed confessional is clearly of psychological benefit and that’s what gives the film its unique emotional punch. What suitable channels would normally exist for those carrying such burdens to offload?
The Gatekeepers is an intriguing, appalling, and astonishing study like no other. One of ordinary human minds dealing with a very real decision to leave behind normal moral boundaries and wade, knee deep, into a realm of bloodshed. As Yoram Cohen, current holder of the post admits, “We all have our moments when it gets you.”
★ ★ ★