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Israel's ex-spies express regrets in 'Gatekeepers'

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By Robert Horton
Herald Movie Critic
"The Gatekeepers" did not win the Oscar for best documentary feature this year (the wonderful "Searching for Sugar Man" took the award), but director Dror Moreh had a speech prepared in case he won.
Moreh released the speech to the media earlier this week, in which he quoted the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on the subject of creating peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The film paints Rabin, who worked out the Oslo Peace Accord with Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat, as the last best hope for peace in the region.
Rabin was assassinated in 1995, and Israel's more recent leadership has taken a much harder line on the Palestinian question. But "The Gatekeepers" is not a straight history lesson; it's a collection of interviews with former heads of Shin Bet, Israel's security agency.
To a man, they express regret, or at least second thoughts, about their own tactics and the overall wisdom of Israel's policy of occupying the territories acquired in the 1967 war. The general drift is that while it was important for Israel to deal with Palestinian terrorists and protect the homeland, the methods that emerged for that protection went into a dangerously gray area.
Moreh gets these former Shin Bet chiefs to be surprisingly blunt on the subject. Occasionally we hear him slightly pushing an interviewee to follow up on a difficult incident (the killing of two bus hijackers who had been taken into custody in 1984, which is described as a "lynching" by one interviewee, is an especially central episode).
The interviews are accompanied by a great deal of newsreel footage of the era, some of it disturbing, including graphic scenes of the aftermath of terrorist bombings by Israel's opponents.
In the version I watched, this archival footage is shown in the wrong aspect ratio, stretched horizontally to fill the frame, so everybody looks squatter than they actually are; I don't understand why a major documentary would do this, but it's becoming commonplace on TV and in documentaries.
Some of "The Gatekeepers" might sound like another recent Israeli documentary on a similar subject, "The Law in These Parts," which we reviewed a few weeks ago. It's an indication of the process of soul-searching that goes on in Israel today that these films are getting made, even if they are not popular with the current government line.
In fact, Israel's minister of culture issued a statement approving the film's loss at the Oscars, and suggested that Israel's filmmakers ought to practice more "self-censorship" in depicting their country to the rest of the world. An interesting example of film's power to generate conversation and controversy.
"The Gatekeepers" (3 stars)
An Oscar-nominated documentary that interviews a group of former chiefs of Shin Bet, Israel's security agency, all of whom express various levels of regret and remorse about their country's handling of the occupied Palestinian territories. It's a vigorous argument, which the filmmakers allow to play out in these observers' own words. In Hebrew, with English subtitles.
Rated: PG-13 for violence.
Showing: Harvard Exit.
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