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Interviews with the Israeli secret service
on 6 June 2013
This documentary about the Israeli security service, Shin Bet, is gripping, uncomfortable, revealing, educational, depressing, illuminating and extremely thought-provoking.
It's likely to divide any audience, but perhaps that's the point: the Arab-Jewish-Palestine-Israel situation tends to polarise all opinions. What's clear from this film is that there simply is no easy answer, and that efforts from each side to make progress towards peace are undermined by extremists of all persuasions.
The film is remarkable in that half a dozen of the recent heads of Shin Bet speak freely and frankly to camera, explaining their actions over the course of the last 40 or so years. It provides a rapid history of the organisation and of its actions during the various conflicts, all of which leads to the current situation in the Middle East (which in turn influences so much of global political activity).
As you might expect, the heads of an internal spy agency (think Stasi) are always going to portray themselves and their country in the best possible light. So it's no surprise that there is some justification of attitudes and what many consider to be morally dubious activities. However the voice of reason is allowed to develop throughout the film, reflecting a more sophisticated understanding of the nature of what Shin Bet describes as `terrorism'. There is also an awful pragmatism about several of the speakers: they know exactly that their actions are not neither constructive nor humane, yet those actions are deemed to be necessary. We get to look into the eyes of the men who feel they are making the least worst decisions, and it's an uncomfortable place to be.
This is an unbalanced account: there's no one from the PLO or Hamas giving an alternative view. So the film-maker tries to handle that with some very inventive use of still photography, shockingly brought to life, and the sadly familiar newsreel footage of intifada followed by bus bombings followed by state retribution... and so on. All of the Israeli interviewees are adept at handling their questioner - but even so, several choose to give what feel like bluntly honest accounts of their mistakes, and how easily the security of the state is undermined by its politicians and (ironically) the citizens - those people who Shin bet strive to keep safe.
Most of the film is subtitled; occasionally I got the impression that more was being said than made it through translation. It held my attention throughout, and is presented in chapters which develop key themes, with an evocative (and occasionally intrusive) soundtrack for the archive footage.
Not a film to enjoy, but one which will certainly aid understanding of the Arab-Israeli situation.