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Originally published Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 3:01 PM

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‘The Gatekeepers’: Israel’s former security chiefs open up

A movie review of “The Gatekeepers,” an Oscar-nominated documentary by Dror Moreh built around revealing interviews with past directors of Israel’s counterterrorism agency, Shin Bet, all of whom regret their country’s problems achieving peace with Palestinians.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review 3.5 stars

‘The Gatekeepers,’ a documentary directed by Dror Moreh. 97 minutes. Rated PG-13 for violence, adult themes. Harvard Exit.

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Documentary filmmaker Dror Moreh’s Oscar-
nominated “The Gatekeepers” (which lost to “Searching for Sugar Man”) opens with aerial views of a targeted assassination somewhere on a street in Israel.

It’s the real deal, not a simulation or re-enactment. The stark footage of a man being blown up by remote intelligence forces can’t help but strike a chord with recent American concerns about government-
ordered drone attacks in U.S. cities.

The ruthless efficiency of the killing is the handiwork of Israel’s counterterroism agency, Shin Bet. What’s remarkable about the inclusion of these images in “The Gatekeepers” is that they are accompanied by commentary from someone once very close to this sort of operation: Yuval Diskin, a former director of Shin Bet.

Even more stunning is what Diskin has to say:
Despite the success of such an action, it takes something from one’s humanity to make it happen. That’s a recurrent, and haunting, theme in Moreh’s cinematic confrontation with Israel’s long-term failure to be on a path to peace with Palestinians.

Diskin is one of six past directors of Shin Bet interviewed for this film — speaking for the first time ever — about the history of counterterrorism in Israel. Though they display varying degrees of openness, each man expresses regret that the agency’s mandate for decades (spying, making arrests, interrogation and assassination), taken with the expansion of Israeli settlements and virulent opposition to negotiations with Palestinians, has, they claim, unnecessarily intensified the rage of an occupied people.

That regret is something to see and hear from these tough individuals, who occasionally had to stand up to hawkish national leaders demanding Shin Bet be even more aggressive and coldblooded. These interviewees tell many stories, including a scandal surrounding the beating deaths of two bus hijackers, the elimination of a terrorist via phone bomb, and Shin Bet’s failure to protect Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin from murder by a Jewish extremist.

Whatever one’s political stripe regarding Israel, it’s hard to dispute the impressions and perspective of the film’s six eyewitnesses.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@gmail.com

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