The Shin Bet are Israel’s secret service agency, tasked with maintaining national security in the face of terrorist attacks and civil unrest due to the ongoing situation with Palestine.
This documentary interviews six former heads of the organisation, the only publicly known members of the group. It’s impressive in itself that the director Dror Moreh has managed to get them in front of the camera at all, let alone speak quite candidly about their role.
Each of them discuss their time in power, the political situation at the time (often tense) and what particular threats they had to contend with. The recurring theme is one of terrorist attacks, trying to understand the enemy and why they fight in the manner they have chosen. Do you take out the enemy with a blunt trauma approach, or do you approach the task with finesse? There are varying thoughts on this one point alone, never mind the moral implications of their actions.
Not that everybody agrees that there is a question of morality in such an act. Or, indeed, many of the other responsibilities that the head of Shin Bet had to oversee.
The Gatekeepers isn’t interested in saying who is right or wrong in this disagreement between Israel and Palestine, although the personal opinions of the Shin Bet leadership do of course get aired. Instead it takes the angle of analysing the impact each of these actions has, the subsequent ripples through time.
If there’s one theme I took away from this documentary, it’s that seemingly no matter how much may change, things invariably stay the same. It’s almost a depressing thought, especially bearing in mind that both sides consider themselves to be in the right. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.
An insider context is given to important events in Israeli history, and from their perspective offers a human face to the decisions and plans made by secret service individuals. It’s telling that one of their number, after retiring, relies on his wife to “keep him alive”. It’s a stark contrast to what we normally expect from secret service personnel, the traditionally stern and cold hearted type. These men are anything but, and it’s almost certain that those who have worked for Shin Bet, past or present, will be in the same boat.
The documentary uses a mixture of video sources throughout. The standard talking heads aspect is there, mixed with archive news footage and the odd bit of CGI to mix things up a little. It’s a standard approach to documentary storytelling, but what’s important is that it works. You don’t need to have bells and whistles in your presentation to tell a good tale.
And that is precisely what this is. A good, real world tale. One that as yet does not have an ending. It portrays a dark past, a darker future unless something happens to change. It’s a bleak opinion for sure, but then after forty years plus of conflict how else would you view the world?