Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan
The newspaper headline read: “The Israeli film Canada’s leaders should watch.” Leaders in Canada or the US may or may not watch the movie, The Gatekeepers. But the people are watching it and getting a picture that’s normally denied them by the mainstream media.
Made with support from European institutions and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation the movie tells a tiny part of the Middle East story and mostly from the Israeli viewpoint. But it also shows the humane side of powerful Israelis and their concern for the future of Israel and the Palestinians and the venomous hate of Israeli extremists and debunks the propaganda that Israel seeks peace but the Palestinians don’t.
It features six former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security agency that answers directly to the prime minister and, if he isn’t available, acts on its own. The former heads are: Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter and Yuval Diskin.
Filmmaker Dror Moreh persuaded Israel’s most powerful men to speak candidly. Despite their different backgrounds, they voiced roughly the same conclusions:
• No Israeli government has seriously tried to seek peace
• Israelis see Palestinians not as a people but as targets
• Israeli governments have made no major effort to curb illegal settlers but have condoned their growth (from 100,000 during the Oslo Accords of 1993 to some 550,000 now)
• The two-state solution is the only way Israel can survive as a democratic Jewish state
• Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands increases the threat to Israeli security
• Israeli policies are eliminating the prospects for peace and a two-state solution
• Israel’s real friends should criticize such policies strongly,
• It was a huge mistake to oppose Palestine’s entry into the United Nations, (Yaakov Peri told CBC radio) and
• The rank and file of Shin Bet officers favor talks with all Palestinian organizations including Hamas.
Israeli and Jewish thinkers have made these points repeatedly, even in Canada. But this isn’t a picture that the mainstream media present to the Canadian and American people.
The audience see in this movie Palestinian suspects being dragged away from their beds and screaming families to prison, captured terrorists being beaten to death, houses or cars going up in flames as they are bombed, fanatical Jews calling for the murder of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and planning to blow up the Dome of the Rock, soldiers firing at unarmed men, women and children for hurling stones, Palestinians being tortured and all the men of a village forced to sit in a square for hours and taken one by one in front of collaborators to be identified for having mounted or planned an attack.
Any resistance to the occupation brands the resister as a terrorist who deserves no basic rights or a fair trial but can be locked up indefinitely, tortured and even killed.
It’s not compassion alone that drove director Moreh to make this movie, or persuaded the Shin Bet leaders to spoke openly. They did so because they see Israel’s brutal suppression of Palestinians as a threat to Israel as a democracy.
Moreh told a Canadian reporter: “I can’t tell you how frustrated I am. Everyone knows we need a two-state solution. It is the only way. And yet, no one is willing to acknowledge this truth, especially right now in Israel, where there is no leadership in this matter. That is why I came to make this movie.” Moreh was concerned that American Jews who support Israel might criticize the movie. But he said that when the Oscar-nominated documentary was screened in the US and at the Teluride Film Festival in Colorado last Fall, several American Jews lauded his effort to spread the message.
Some Israelis have criticized the movie and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to see it. After all an extremist killed Rabin in 1995 for seeking peace with Palestinians. But Moreh says the movie’s strength is that it shows Israel’s most powerful men, guarding the country’s security, speaking candidly about their concerns.
“No one can say they don’t know what they are talking about. They are the heads of the most feared organization in Gaza and the West Bank … and when you ask them if Israel is better off now than it was after the Six Day War, they will say no. Yet, there is no leader now in Israel who is courageous enough to say ‘Enough with settlements, they are tearing our society apart!’ They are only concerned with getting elected.”
Moreh is not optimistic about prospects for peace. “There was a time, I think, when we believed that we were on the road to peace. But now, we are on the road to nowhere.”
— Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian newspaperman, civil servant and a refugee jud