The Gatekeepers: A lose-lose situation

I recently watched the documentary “The Gatekeepers” by Dror Moreh, and immediately afterward, felt emotionally conflicted about my own views. On the one hand, how could I argue with such an esteemed group of military giants who have lived up close to the horrors of the endless violence between the Palestinians and Israelis. Unlike myself, who only reads about such events, and observes the conflict in theory, these men experienced first-hand what the occupation has done to the Palestinians – as well as the Israelis. The film leaves no doubt that neither group is better off for it, and that the status quo is unmanageable. “The Gatekeepers” also puts forth a powerful argument that assassinating the terror leaders has not stemmed the violence or convinced the Palestinians – (especially in Gaza) – to lay down their arms. As one former Director of the Shin Bet says toward the end of the film, “We’re winning the battles, but losing the war.”

What is not mentioned in the film – either by the Directors of the Shin Bet, (or perhaps by the filmmaker in the editing room) – is what the alternative might look like. There are plenty of detailed maps showing the land Israel conquered in Gaza, the West Bank, Golan Heights, and even Lebanon in 1982, but there’s hardly any attention given to what occurred when Israel withdrew from these territories. No diagrams to show how Hezbollah – or Iran (via its Hamas proxy) – filled the vacuum, and set up thousands of rockets aimed directly at Israeli cities. One would almost conclude that it’s strictly a Palestinian/Israeli problem, when in reality there are numerous leaders who have used the conflict for their own benefit — even survival.

There’s also a notion put forth that back in 1967, Israel somehow languished, and came to occupy the Palestinian territory with a sense of indifference, and were unable to foresee the long term effects of occupation, and deal the land back. But if history serves me correct, there was nobody interested in making a deal. Unilateral withdrawal would have left Israel in the same vulnerable position it was in before the Six Day War. Furthermore, unlike today, the Palestinians were not set up to run a state, and would no doubt have been infiltrated by other parties, much like Lebanon was taken over by Hezbollah.

Did the Palestinian people suffer as a result? Absolutely. Did the Israelis sometimes use methods to fight terrorism that were immoral by their own standards? No doubt. But once again, to remove the Arab leadership from the equation would be like ignoring the role Japanese leaders played in America’s decision to drop the Bomb on Hiroshima.

There is one telling scene in the film when a Shin Bet Director describes the assassination of one of Hamas’s top engineers: “Yes,” he freely admits, “Taking out the bomb maker resulted in suicide bombings that killed Israelis.” But then he adds, “It’s not as if we left this operative alone he wouldn’t have killed Israelis as well.”

And that’s where the fallacy of this film lies.

It’s capable of giving a lose / lose scenario for a single operation, but doesn’t apply the Catch-22 dilemma to the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even when describing the Rabin years, Moreh ignores recent evidence that proved that Yasser Arafat was instrumental in launching the Intifada, while portraying himself to the world as a peacemaker. The film even goes so far as to suggest that if Rabin had not been assassinated, peace with the Palestinians would be a fait-acompli, even though other peace initiatives put forward since by future Israeli Prime Ministers – some, even more generous than Rabin’s – were unilaterally rejected. Moreh’s conclusion? The Palestinians didn’t trust anyone else but Rabin.

By not presenting the alternative, the filmmaker has made a cardinal mistake of putting himself – and his politics – ahead of what the material demands. Is there value in this? Perhaps some. But like the documentary films of Michael Moore, “The Gatekeepers” preaches to his choir, but doesn’t do very much in changing the minds his skeptics.

About the Author
Oren Safdie is a playwright and screenwriter. He's also written articles for Dwell, Metropolis, The Forward, The Jerusalem Post, Canadian Jewish News and The New Republic. His play FALSE SOLUTION opens at La MaMa ETC in New York June 13, 2013