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4.5 out of 5 stars45
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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.
8/10
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on 28 August 2013
This film is a series of interviews with former heads of Shin Bet. That is what it is and that is all it is. It is not analysis of the Arab Israeli conflict, neither does it make any judgements. The interviewees make some judgements on their actions, the politics around them and the conflict, and those are presented without comment, like everything else in the film.

I found it totally absorbing. I watched it rather as you might listen to a witness in a trial who is presenting a particular view events and interactions, being aware that there was more behind what they are saying, but just listening to what they had to say. It is not often we get any kind of insight into the thoughts of people who run these kinds of organizations, how they deal with the pressures, the extent to which they are troubled by conscience.
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VINE VOICEon 22 October 2013
Aeschylus, the Greek dramatist, famously said that `in war, truth is the first casualty.' For wars to gain the backing of a wider population there must be a taking of sides, a construction of narratives that justify one side's military actions and a determined effort to suppress anything that questions those narratives in case it weakens support. In those circumstances, truth - in the purest sense - doesn't stand a chance.

Which, having been said, makes this film all the more remarkable.

At the end of the 1967 War between Israel and its neighbours, the fledging state gained possession of the territories that had formerly been seen as belonging to the Palestinians. The decision of the State of Israel to hold onto these territories - and to begin the military Occupation of them - undoubtedly satisfied the desires held by many Israelis. But it also created a permanent state of insecurity as the state was forced to justify its actions and faced resistance from many quarters, especially from those in the West Bank and Gaza who objected to Israeli military rule.

Some of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories looked to military solutions, engaging in acts of terror and resistance against the Israeli state. This pushed the Israeli Security Agency - commonly known as Shin Bet - to prominence. It's role in developing intelligence networks, arresting `terrorists' and attempting to foresee and prevent attacks was seen as essential to the survival of the State of Israel. From 1967 Shin Bet agents routinely engaged in morally-questionable activities: covert surveillance of anyone outside of the political mainstream; mass detentions; the creation of networks of paid informers; the torture of suspects; and assassinations of `enemy' fighters as well as those who generated support for them.

Remarkably, film-maker Dror Moreh has persuaded six former heads of Shin Bet to discuss these things in front of his camera. For 100 minutes these former `gatekeepers' open up (to a greater or lesser degree) about the ethics of their activities, about their relationships with Israeli political leaders and even with the role that the State of Israel has played in the `peace process' with the Palestinians.

The Gatekeepers does not take a pro-Palestinian position: the film never veers from a strictly Israeli interpretation of the events of the last 45 years and Palestinian voices are completely absent from this movie.

What it does do, however, is reveal the inner doubts that even those at the heart of the state feel about the things that have been done in the name of protecting Israel. One director is unrepentant about his role in the execution of two bus hijackers but confesses to feeling disturbed at the moral implications of what went on during his period in office. Another notes with disdain the way in which the Zionist terrorists who killed Israeli Prime Minister Rabin were quietly released from prison in order to appease the right-wingers in the government. While one is convinced that political assassinations have helped reduce terrorist attacks, others are more critical about these actions and suggest that efforts to build a genuine peace process with the Palestinians are more apparent than real. All of them express their frustration at the hypocritical and self-serving behaviour of the politicians under whom they have served.

This movie then represents a very rare achievement: Dror Moreh has managed to encourage six men at the heart of controversial policies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to talk about what they did with searing honesty. Their exposition of what happened and, more importantly, how they now feel about their contribution to events makes compulsive viewing. It also serves as an intelligent contribution to the whole debate about the conflict - a worthwhile attempt to get to at least part of the truth of what goes on in the Middle East. It's not a normal movie: there is of course no happy ending here. But as a means of advancing understanding this is film-making of the highest order.

If you care about Israel and the Palestinians you simply must watch The Gatekeepers.
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on 7 May 2014
I bought this DVD as being pro-Palestinian I wanted to understand the Israeli perspective and found that what I was watching confirmed all my thoughts about how disastrous the continued cycle of violence and intolerance is for all, not only Palestinians but for Jews as well. This is a DVD that shows the humanity of people who are asked to do the inhumane. It stops the viewer in their tracks and succeeds in being horrifying and yet sensitive at one and the same time. In my opinion everyone should have the opportunity to view it.
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on 3 October 2014
This is definitely worth seeing if you are interested in this ongoing conflict. I was surprised by how open these guys were, given they are all former heads of Israel's security service. Pretty much all six of them, to varying degrees, concluded that Israel's policy towards the Palestinians has been hugely flawed since 1967 and they all seemed very pessimistic about the future. There was definitely a sense that Rabin was the last chance for peace and Israeli right-wingers made sure they ended that hope by killing him. Very insightful film. I doubt we'll ever see the same kind of film featuring former heads of MI5 or MI6.
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on 12 November 2013
An incredible revelation of the anti-terrorist Israeli Mossad activities by interviewing all of the surviving Shin Bet Heads of Service. Makes spy fiction pale into insignificance, compared with reality.
It's all here, warts and all, but the one fascinating factor is, despite the contrasting style, personalities and performance of the spy chiefs their view of the ultimate answer to the Middle East situation is the same: a two State solution, despite the vacillations of the politicians.
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on 11 June 2016
One of the most searing, honest and amazing documentaries about the history of Shabbak (Shin Beth) where, in the last third of the program the REAL threat to Israel and it's majority of citizens is exposed. Essential viewing for anyone interested in Israel, Palestinians and their challenges
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on 22 July 2015
Great documentary taking inside the israeli secret service from the the 6 day war to the intifada's etc. Very interesting to hear the views of the ex-heads of the service and their views. all is not as you would think...........
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on 9 October 2014
Interesting and surprisingly open accounts from Shin Bet heads. I reluctantly gave it a 4. Its not the best documentary I've seen but its one which leaves an effect & makes you think.
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on 26 October 2014
Rather hard hitting for Sunday evening BUT its a gripping documentary about the conflict in israel as told fromthe Shin Bet organization
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