In The Gatekeepers, Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh speaks with former directors of Israel’s secret service, the Shin Bet, about Israel’s war on terror, Rabin’s murder, targeted assassinations, and the Jewish Underground. The furor surrounding the film derives from the fact that these men, who have devoted their lives to Israel’s security and who know more about the Israeli/Palestinian facts on the ground than anyone else on earth, all believe that Israel should end the occupation in favor of a two-state solution. The Gatekeepers is a 2013 Oscar contender for Best Documentary Feature. •Availability: Opens Feb. 1 in New York and LA; click here for theatrical release nationwide. •Thanks to Nora Lee Mandel for help with research. •Thanks to Matt Mazur and Grace Verrill, Donna Daniels PR, for arranging this interview.•
DT: Many people, including Ami Ayalon [director of Shin Bet 1996-2000], have said that the occupation poses a threat to democracy. In what way exactly?
DM: If the Palestinians had said, OK, we like you, Israelis, we like the Jews, we want to be part of your country, that would have been different. But they don’t say that; they want their own country. A lot of Israelis would say—and a lot of Jews here would probably say—that the Palestinians all want the destruction of the state of Israel. But I’m not afraid of what they want. Israel is a very strong force; you know, we don’t shiver so easily from Palestinians who want to annihilate us. But what Ami Ayalon says, and what I believe strongly, is that it doesn’t matter. The fact that you are an occupier of people who don’t want to be occupied by you changes you from the inside. Changes your profile, changes the way you behave, changes the way you think about the other side, the indoctrination that you have towards that other side that wants to kill you, and slowly and surely you are moving towards being kind of… I’m afraid to say those words….
DT: Avraham Shalom [director of Shin Bet 1980-1986] said it in the film.
DM: A lot of philosophers, like Yeshayahu Leibowitz, said those things many years before Dror Moreh came and said this with The Gatekeepers. [In 1968 Leibowitz wrote, “A state ruling over a hostile population of one million people will necessarily become a Shin Bet state, with all that this implies for education, freedom of speech and thought and democracy. The corruption found in any colonial regime will affix itself to the State of Israel.”] When I quoted this in the movie to Yuval Diskin [director of Shin Bet 2005-2011], he said of this, “Every word etched in stone.” This is my greatest concern. When I see my son going to the army now, and when I see my daughter going into the army in six months, I don’t want to think about it. I hope that he will not serve in a unit going into Palestinian homes, arresting people, deciding at roadblocks which Palestinians will move forward or not. It changes us from within; this is the greatest worry that I have. You cannot be an occupier. There is no enlightened occupation. There is nothing like that. It has to affect you and it does affect you. In one way Israel is amazing, that after forty-five years of this kind of occupation with a hostile population it didn’t become more…
DT: “Cruel” is what Avraham Shalom said.
DM: Harsh. Exactly. So I think you can combine all of that into what you asked me.
DT: In 1967, a million Palestinians suddenly came under Israeli rule. In the film, Avraham Shalom said the Israelis responded with no strategy.
DM: No strategy, just tactics.
DT: Do you think that Israel just didn’t know how to handle the situation…that it found itself in completely new territory, so to speak?
DM: If you ask me to analyze what happened in 1967, the intelligent way is to go to the leaders at those times, not seeing it in hindsight now. I think that after many years of Israel being threatened by major forces—the Egyptians, the Syrians, the Jordanians—everybody knew that if Israel lost a war, it would be the last war that she would fight, because basically it would have meant the annihilation of all the Jews in the state of Israel. All of a sudden, in 1967, something miraculously happened: Israel triumphed, unbelievably, against those armies. Against Egypt we conquered all the Sinai. Against the Syrians we conquered the Golan Heights, against the Jordanians we conquered the West Bank and Gaza—there was no Palestinian state, by the way, it was from the Jordanians. Suddenly the leaders of Israel felt, OK. We have a strong army. Nobody can threaten us anymore. I think this was intoxicating in a way, because from a small country that was always threatened—you know, David against the Goliath that was all around him—they said, OK, if the Palestinians and the Arabs want to create peace…and these are the phrases that Golda Meir and Levi Eshkol used…let them come. They can come whenever they want. We’re not in any rush to solve the problem. I think that most Israelis felt the same in that era. You know, we were a country under siege, under attack all the time from both terrorists and the countries surrounding us, and all of a sudden, OK, we won. It’s your problem now. You have to play now. We don’t have to play. And this was what happened then. This was why in 1967 the leadership, especially towards the Palestinians, didn’t think strategically. And the problem is that the more time passes, the more complicated it is to solve it. What was much easier to achieve forty years ago was less easy to achieve thirty, twenty, ten, and now. As time passes it gets much harder, with much more human suffering, to reach the solution. You know, everybody knows what the solution will look like. Only the extreme right doesn’t accept that. It involves a lot of human suffering…especially from the Israelis, by the way. All those settlers were sent by a state—by a criminal, in my point of view, policy of the state—which yielded to those messianic feelings among the settlers. Yielded. Not wanting. Yielded to their messianic “It’s either or.” Either they will be evacuated and it will be a human catastrophe, or they will prevail and it will be a human catastrophe for all of Israel.
DT: Why do you say it will be a catastrophe if they’re evacuated?
DM: It will be a catastrophe for them. I saw what happened in the disengagement plan when Ariel Sharon uprooted those settlements. Look, the governments of Israel sent those people to settle there in a way, sometimes by looking with a blind eye. They didn’t want to look at that. And those people felt ideologically, and they feel up until today, that they continue the Zionist movement, which was basically a settlement movement. Those settlers feel that they’re walking in the footsteps of those who settled in the 1930s, 1940s.
DT: That’ interesting. That’s really, really interesting.
DM: Zionism is a settling movement. Herzl was not right: “A country with no people for a people with no country” is not the case. There were people, in Lod, and Ramlah, and Haifa, and Sfad, and Jaffah, where I live. There were Palestinians. I live in an Arabic house, which was a Palestinian house, let’s say seventy, sixty-five years ago. I’m not ashamed of that, but those settlers in the West Bank and Gaza: I think they’re wrong. The fact that Israel didn’t force them not to settle—or forced the law that says they’re not alllowed to settle in those territories—created this big mess, but at the end of the day there are 500,000 people there now.
DM: This is why I say it’s a catastrophe. Imagine 500,000 people. It’s not what will happen, but let’s say 150,000, which is the smallest number. 100,000 people: You have to uproot them from their houses, from places they feel are homeland, whatever bullshit they’re fed with—the land of the prophet, the land of our ancestors, where our fathers walked, which we cannot give back, all this kind of horrible, stupid, unbelievable religious bullshit—and they have to go back. They have to leave that.
DT: In the film, Avraham Shalom said, “Luckily for us, terrorism increased, because now we had work. We stopped dealing with the Palestinian state.” To what extent do you think that terrorism has prevented the Palestinians from getting a state of their own?
DM: You’re asking me to speculate here. Basically Avraham Shalom meant that in the beginning there was no real resistance in the Occupied Territories after ’67. There was no Palestinian movement. Nobody knew how to eat this new thing. But the fact that Israel didn’t move very swiftly to say, OK, this is the Occupied Territories, we are going to try to create a Palestinian state—this is what Shalom says, “I thought that it’s a good idea to create a Palestinian state”—they didn’t move then, and then the terrorists started. Because nothing moved on the ground, terrorists started, and then we started to work against terrorism. The terrorism got more complicated and we got more complicated, and all of a sudden we find ourselves working 24/7 forgetting about those ideas of a Palestinian state we had in the beginning. Basically we lost track of what needed to be done because we were chasing after our tail all the time, like a cat who sees his tail and tries to bite it.
DT: Right, but it was a two-way street. I mean, it takes two to tango. If there had been no terrorism—
DM: If there had been no terrorism, Israel would not move an inch. Never. The first time the Israelis acknowledged that there is a Palestinian people was in 1987, the first intifada. Suddenly the Israelis woke up and said, “Wow, there are people there in the West Bank. There are not only the servants that come to clean the restaurants and build our houses. There are people there who don’t want to be ruled by us.” For me it happened, definitely. 1987. All of a sudden, Wow. There are Palestinians there, not those Palestinians who are working in the factories for us or who are doing all the dirty jobs that we don’t want to do. If there was no terror—and it’s hard to say that—Israel would not move an inch. An inch. I will give you an example, also from The Gatekeepers. 2000. Ehud Barak unilaterally withdraws from Lebanon. He withdraws from Lebanon, Hezbollah comes to the international border. Hezbollah fighters are on the border, tearing the flag of Israel and saying, “We pushed you out. By force. You were afriad, this is how we pushed you out.” In the meantime, the Palestinians are saying to Barak—or to the Israelis—“We gave you security in the last two years. We did everything we could in order to fight the Hamas terrorists. We put them in jail, in the prospect of getting a Palestinian state. What did you do? How much did you move? Nothing. You didn’t move towards us. Nothing. Hezbollah killed your soldiers, fired rockets on your northern cities, and what did you do? You moved to the international border.” What is the message that every Palestinian understands from that? What kind of a clear message does Israel send to anybody after that? You want to move forward? Let’s move forward two months ago, three months ago. For three, four years the Palestinian Authority has provided security for the state of Israel completely. Two days ago it was published that this year no Israelis were killed by terrorist attacks from the West Bank.
DT: I saw the article in Haaretz.
DM: First year. Why? Because the Palestinian Authority security forces and the Israeli security forces allowed that state of security to happen. What did Netanyahu do in the last four years? Zip. Nothing he did. Nothing. What did he do with Hamas? He released one thousand terrorists in order to get Gilad Shalit, and he negotiated. Although he likes to portray himself as the strong guy, the strong leader who doesn’t bow to terror, who negotiated with Hamas about the cease fire in Gaza just three, four weeks ago? Who was the one? Was it Barack Obama? Was it the left or the right wings in Israel? No, Bibi Netanyahu, the big fighter against terror, negotiated with Hamas and yielded to Hamas. The consequence of the last conflict in Gaza was that the terrorist leader of Hamas was allowed to come to Gaza and to row in the parade, where he says this is the only way that we will force Israel to submit—only by force. Who allowed that? Who allowed that? The prime minister of Israel.
DT: Well, that answers my question.
DM: The biggest fighter against terror. And what is he doing in the meantime with the people who are saying to him, We are willing to accept the state of Israel, we are willing to fight terror, we will fight terror, we don’t believe in terror, what is he doing to Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad? Humiliating them. Making them not relevant. And showing to the whole world, and definitely to the Palestinian population, that only Hamas, by using force, is making Israel bow, is forcing Israel to do whatever he wants them to do.
DT: For me, one of the most heartbreaking moments came when Ami Ayalon, speaking about Rabin’s assassination, said, “I suddenly saw a different Israel. What do we have in common?” For me, that was heartbreaking, especially as an American Jew. We trotted up with our little quarters to put in the Keren Kayemet box, and all the propaganda that we get here…
DM: The biggest threat to Israel’s security is those far-right-wing extremists. This is the biggest threat to Israel’s security. Who is the most renowned American president? I’m asking you now.
DT: Because he brought the people together.
DM: And what did he do in order to do that?
DM: Civil war. He made civil war because he felt that at one point in its history, a country cannot yield to something that is so brutally and honestly immoral. There are some things to which you cannot yield. After he assassinated Rabin, Yigal Amir said something at the end of his trial. The judge tells him, “Before I’m going to sentence you, I allow you to speak.” And what Yigal Amir said stayed with me; he said, “Nobody addressed the fact that there is a contradiction in terms between the democratic Israeli state and Jewish law. Unless it will be addressed, it will continue.”
DT: What’s the contradiction?
DM: Jewish law comes before the democracy, before the law of the land. Basically, the rabbis are above the law of the state, and this is the main problem: When there is a group of people inside Israeli society who do not accept the concept of democracy but when it comes to decision making they say the law of the Torah, the law of the Bible, these are the ones that prevail. You saw that in the movie, when this rabbi says, “No leader can oppose the Torah. No one can do that.” When it reaches that point, Israel will have to decide where it goes. Even if it will mean a civil war.
DT: You don’t think that the last election—
DM: Come on.
DT: All right.
DM: Not really. For example, I will give you Naftali Bennett, one of the stars of the last election. In an interview on public television, he was asked, “What will you recommend your soldiers do if the prime minister of Israel orders you to evacuate a settlement?” He’s from the Mafdal, not the Haredi, and his instinct was to say, “I will refuse that order.” Because it’s in contradiction to the Torah. It comes to that fundamental question, that wall which is the law of the Torah. You know, you can hear about the same law from ten different rabbis, and each one gives you a completely different answer to the same question. At the end of the day those extreme rabbis, Rabbi Lior from Hebron, and Rabbi Ginsburg, there are a lot of those crazy guys worming around—
DT: But even Lapid said he wouldn’t serve in a bloc with the Arab parties.
DM: That’s his problem, but that doesn’t matter. We’re talking now about when it reaches a democracy that has to face the question, Who stands? The laws of the Torah, which is how the rabbis interpret, or the laws of the land? A lot of the people from the extreme right wing will go to the laws of the Torah. And that’s a problem. That’s a civil problem.
DT: I saw an article a few days ago in Haaretz in which Avner Gvaryahu wrote, “Unarmed resistance to the occupation poses a challenge to the security concept to which we have become accustomed.” If that’s true, what challenges do the nonviolent movement in Bilin or the Palestinians who are setting up their own tents on top of hills…
DM: In E1.
DT: What challenges do they pose to the IDF?
DM: I don’t know. I’m not so expert on the IDF or what challenge they pose to them.
DT: The headline for a New York Times article about your film was “Most Israelis Are Not Listening.”
DM: This is coming from a not so qualified or even well-informed—you can quote me on that—columnist. [Jode Rudoren]. The review was by A. O. Scott.
DT: So what’s the reception in Israel?
DM: The reception in Israel is amazing. It’s overwhelming. The film started in two cinemas in the beginning. After one week it moved to seven cinemas. It’s now in fifteen cinemas. Three weeks. A lot of Israelis have seen it up until now, I think it’s thirty-seven, thirty-eight thousand, which is an amazing amount in Israel in terms of cinemagoers. It’s completely sold out. It’s in the biggest multiplex in Israel, some of them owned by friends of Netanyahu. For a documentary it’s really an amazing success.
DT: At the New York Film Festival press screening, you ended the Q&A by saying that you hoped Obama will be elected so that he’ll put pressure on the next Israeli prime minister. At the same time, Haaretz just reported that Riad Malki says that the Palestinians will go to the Hague if Israelis don’t stop the E1 plan. How important is international pressure at this point?
DM: Crucial. Essential. Unless Obama will put enormous pressure—on both sides, by the way, not only the Israelis—but mainly on the Israelis and the Palestinians, nothing will happen. They’re two entities that have now reached the pubic period. They’re two entities that are basically like small children who are fighting and nobody understands what they’re fighting about. As far as the leaders of Israel, Netanyahu is dealing with all the wrong reasons not to do anything. I’ll tell you the truth, I don’t believe that Netanyahu has it in him; he’s not a leader. He’s a good salesman…for furniture…I’m talking really honestly. This is what I feel. He’s the worst prime minister. He and [Ehud] Barak can compete for who’s the worst prime minister in the history of Israel. I don’t know who will win. Probably Netanyahu although Barak in his year and a half created so much damage that it’s taking many years to mend the damage he did. The kind of leadership that needs to move towards peace you don’t see even in the far horizon of Israeli politics. So though the gatekeepers are always trying to comfort me and tell me, “You are much too bleak, the leadership will arise,” I don’t see that kind of leadership on the horizon of Israeli politics now. And unless an enormous power will be forced on both sides to move ahead… America knows how to do that—Barack Obama, if he wants, knows how to do that—and I think that there are hints by appointing the defense minister…
DT: Chuck Hagel…
DM: And by appointing the foreign minister…
DT: John Kerry…
DM: He indicates very clearly where he wants to go. I hope that he really means that. There’s also concern about the conservative Jews here in America, who have a lot of power, I think. in my point of view, those Jews are making a mistake in what they do. I’m not the only one saying that. Believe me, six heads of the Israeli secret service are saying the same thing: By the way that they act, the way that they accept the wrong policy of the Israeli government, they are damaging the state of Israel. Not helping—damaging the sate of Israel. And unless they understand that, and unless they will help President Obama take this Titanic that is heading head-on towards the iceberg and help him change the wheel…. Basically this is what they are doing: They are helping the captain of theTitanic move head-on towards the iceberg. I don’t want to blame, but this is what I feel AIPAC is doing.
DT: Is there anything you want to add?
DM: I hope those people will come to The Gatekeepers keeping an open mind and heart and watch those six heads of Israeli secret service, the Shin Bet, whom you cannot call unpatriotic. They are the ones who sacrificed the most for the security of Israel. Most of their grown-up life since the day that they served in the army was in the service of the security of Israel. This is what they dedicated their lives to…six of them. All the heads of Shin Bet who are alive, coming and telling…. Listen to them. This is what I ask. Just listen to them. Don’t do anything. Just come with open minds to The Gatekeepers and listen to those people. What you decide after that is up to you. But listen to them. Don’t be racially prejudiced or mesmerized by the propaganda machine that’s working against that. Go to the movie and judge for yourself. You are old enough and capable enough intellectually to do that by yourself. This is what I’m hoping will happen.
Copyright © Director Talk 2013