A few nights ago, in the heart of white Jerusalem where snow had been falling for over thirty six hours, I made my way gingerly by foot down the slippery slope to Jerusalem’s Cinematheque to see the Israeli documentary, The Gatekeepers, which has been nominated for an Oscar. A couple of hundred other Jerusalemites had also braved the winter elements to watch the film. For a full ninety five minutes, you could have heard a pin drop in the theatre. When the film ended, there were audible sounds of astonishment once the audience began to digest what they had just seen. The film was made by Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh and tells the dramatic history of Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians and its involvement in the territories after the 6 day war. The stars of the film are six Heads of the Shin Bet – Israel’s renowned internal security service. As I watched, it became clear that what I was seeing on the screen was a very sophisticated mix of powerful Israeli-Palestinian conflict visuals intertwined with the subjective views of the 6 leaders of the Shin Bet.
As the film unfolded we moved from the height of joy felt at regaining Jewish historical sites from the bible, to the depth of tragedy during the Rabin assassination after which Carmi Gilon – the then Shin Bet commander who was responsible for the PM’s safety – immediately offered his resignation.
It was truly fascinating to digest the testimonials that came from such different personalities. Overall, the six different interpretations were in many ways similar. Each one of the leaders described in their own way finding a path in the dark because in forty five years, the leaders of the various Governments of Israel had never announced a strategic policy regarding the Palestinians and the territories. (Yitzchak Rabin Is a possible exception in the eyes of one of the leaders).
The six leaders talked about the moral dilemmas they faced at different points, for example, when deciding whether to drop a bomb to carry out a targeted killing in order to take out a terrorist threat – what happens to the immediate innocent human circles around the terrorist target? What order should they give the interrogators who are dealing with terrorists that are ‘ticking bombs’ and where the speed of getting information can be a matter of saving many lives? Is there a place for a moral compass in a war of attrition where the enemy is using horrific methods of war – Intifada one and two, blowing up busses, suicide attacks and more?
You could feel the weight of responsibility that each one of them still carries – the sadness of not being able to finish the conflict. They were each scarred by events which forced them to think about what their service in the field has done to their own basic identity and what kind of Israel they want to see. They were once central actors in an unfolding drama and today they live in a situation where there is still no clear answer to the question of what the State of Israel should do regarding the millions of Palestinians who live under its daily rule.
I recommend strongly that every Israeli and every Jew should see this film regardless of what their particular political views are. I guarantee that each one will have to rethink his or her world view regarding Israel and the Palestinian question.
As I left the cinema and made my way up the slippery slope, I found myself smiling as I remembered an idea that I read a couple of weeks earlier, from an interesting perspective on the world we live in: ”Politicians and thinkers would be wise not to try and bend history as the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate growth by providing the appropriate environment, in the manner a gardener does for his plants – it involves changing the role we imagine for ourselves , from architects of a system we can control and manage to gardeners in a living , shifting ecosystem”. – The Age of the Unthinkable (Joshua Cooper Ramo).
Martin Ben Moreh & Michal Kabatznik , the Reut Institute, Israel.