Academy Award nominated film The Gatekeepers to show at Naro

by | May 3, 2013 | What’s Happening

Begins May 10

The movie, The Gatekeepers raises profound moral questions through the lens of six retired heads of Israel’s security agency, Israel Security Agency (ISA). It is a powerful, compelling and important movie. While I am neither a moviegoer or movie critic, this movie is a “must see.” It compellingly and honestly addresses how civil democratic society confronts terrorism and the limits of counterterrorism.

What makes the movie unique is the candid reflection of the six former heads; all understand the use of force, all exercised significant state power. Precisely for that reason, the consensus—but not unanimous— opinion they articulate regarding the need to negotiate with the Palestinian’s is of particular importance. These are not political “lefties,” hailing from the peace camp blind to Palestinian terrorism and the price it has exacted on Israeli society. Neither do the heads represent an extreme right-wing perspective that Israel is always the victim of Palestinian terrorism. The movie is far more nuanced than that; the situation and opinions are far more complicated than a simple “correct-incorrect,” “right-left” perspective.

Critics have suggested the movie is “bad” for Israel public relations (hasbara); criticism has come from the political left and right alike, whether in the U.S. or in Israel. The “left” is critical of the movie because it portrays Israel as engaging in unlimited use of force in response to Palestinian terrorism; the right criticizes the movie for portraying Israel’s security heads as apologizing for the use of force. Both badly miss the point.

My conversations with one of the retired heads made clear the point of the movie: there is no alternative but to engage the Palestinians in direct negotiations because the impact of the use of force is, ultimately, limited. That is reflective neither of weakness (the right’s criticism) nor war mongering (the left’s criticism). It is, more than anything else, indicative of sobering real-politick predicated on thoughtful reflection by those uniquely positioned to do so.

Re-articulated: the movie accentuates an extraordinary paradox that is, in many ways, the essence of Israel’s reality. As former Prime Minister Rabin, assassinated by a Jewish terrorist, repeatedly said, “we will fight for peace like there is no terrorism and fight terrorism like there is no peace.” Rabin’s statement, made in the aftermath of the signing of the Oslo Accords and in the face of a series of highly successful suicide bombings in Israel, reflected the “yin-yang” that is Israel’s existential dilemma.

The six heads, in referring to Palestinian terrorism, highlight the reality confronting Israel today. The reality, particularly as expressed by Ya’kov Per’i, Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter and Yu’val Diskin is crystal clear: there is no choice but to negotiate with the Palestinians. Emphasizing the powerful words of Per’i, Ayalon, Dichter and Diskin is not intended to diminish the reflections of Avraham Shalom and Carmi Gillon; rather it highlights the four whose words are the movie’s essence. To remind: Shalom was forced to resign for his role in the Bus 300 scandal and left Israel shortly thereafter; Gillon, the head when Rabin was assassinated, was forced to resign in its aftermath.

What is it, then, that makes this movie both “so Israeli” and so “must see”? It is the clear-eyed, devoid of pathos, straightshooting (dugri, in colloquial Hebrew) sabri (native born Israeli) analysis of reality. There is no “political correctness,” no apology, no weakness, and no “mea culpa” in this movie. At the end of the day, what makes the movie so compelling is the unflinching toughness of tough-minded people who authorized killing Palestinian terrorists. The heads harbor no regret for their actions; their words are intended as a powerful clarion call: we cannot continue like this, we must directly negotiate with the Palestinians.

In my conversation with one of the heads, I asked him if the movie had an audience of one, PM Benjamin Netanyahu. While not rejecting my analysis he, correctly, noted, “even if Bibi does not see the movie, others would.” As Netanyahu’s third government takes the reins of power, it can but be hoped that the rational voices of the heads will be heard. Their straight and direct talk regarding the limits of power is compelling and powerful, making this an extraordinarily important movie.

by Professor Amos N. Guiora

—Amos Guiora is a Professor of Law, SJ Quinney College of Law, University of Utah. He is the author of numerous books dealing with military law and national security including Legitimate Target: A Criteria-Based Approach to Targeted Killing (Oxford University Press, forthcoming April 2013). Guiora served for 19 years in the Israel Defense Forces, LT. COL. (retired); from 1994-1999 he was directly involved in the implementation of the Oslo Peace Process. Guiora was the first speaker in the 2012-2013 Israel Today Series in Tidewater.