Counseling Compromise

Israel’s ex-security leaders critique the country’s peace path

February 22, 2013
Dror Moreh’s documentary “The Gatekeepers” features interviews with the last six living heads of Israel’s security agency, Shin Bet (clockwise from left): Avraham Shalom, Ami Ayalon, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Avi Dichter and Yuval Diskin.
Dror Moreh’s documentary “The Gatekeepers” features interviews with the last six living heads of Israel’s security agency, Shin Bet (clockwise from left): Avraham Shalom, Ami Ayalon, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Avi Dichter and Yuval Diskin.

Dror Moreh, documentarian, believes in asking for what he wants.

“Everybody told me, ‘You are crazy. Shin Bet will never speak to you. What are you talking about?’ ” he says. “And I said, ‘Well, let’s try.’ ”

Shin Bet is Israel’s security service, and Moreh’s new Oscar-nominated movie, “The Gatekeepers,” opening today at the Landmark theaters in Bethesda and on E Street, consists of interviews with the last six living heads of the agency. What Moreh has done is equivalent to getting a CIA director or six to give candid (and critical) opinions of U.S. policy on camera. The film’s six subjects are all obviously patriots who are at the heart of the country’s defense establishment. All are convinced that Israel is on the wrong political path, that leaders have all but abandoned real efforts at peacemaking.

Moreh knew numbers were crucial. “I wanted to create something that can’t be disputed,” he says. One former Shin Bet leader could be dismissed as disgruntled. Six are more persuasive — as evidenced by the incident that spurred Moreh to make the movie. While making a film about former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, he was told that Sharon changed his mind about Israeli settlements in the West Bank after reading an interview with some former Shin Bet directors that warned against his original course of action. “I thought: If it will move Sharon, it will move a lot of people,” Moreh says.

So he homed in on his targets. He contacted Ami Ayalon, who ran Shin Bet in the late ’90s, and asked for cooperation — and in help convincing the other former leaders.

“There is no community of Shin Bet,” Moreh says. “There is no club with cigars and whiskeys. Actually, they don’t like each other so much.”

But Ayalon’s involvement got him an introduction, and from there he persuaded the other five men to discuss torture, diplomacy, the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (considered one of the few Israeli politicians in history committed to compromise) and what they see as Israel’s dishonest stance on its position in the conflict.

“When you grow up in Israel, you always hear in school, ‘We seek peace, and our neighbors want to kill us,’ ” Moreh says. “I think Israel could have reached peace with the Palestinians far easier and maybe earlier, and it would have saved a lot of people’s lives.”

Immersive Action: To avoid the drab documentary trap of panning across still photos, Moreh, above, invented a cinematic technique he calls “set extension.” He loaded the photos into a computer to create a 3-D environment around them. In the film (accompanied by the sound of footsteps), the camera zooms into photos and explores the terrain, stepping onto the wreckage of a hijacked bus and examining it from different angles, with the shadowy, jerky aesthetic of a video game. “I wanted to give the audience the sense of what it meant to be on the ground,” Moreh says

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Vicky Hallett · February 22, 2013