JW Q&A: The Shin Bet’s Interviewer
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Israeli film director Dror Moreh has just released his latest film, “The Gatekeepers,” a documentary that consists of interviews with six men who formerly directed Israel’s Shin Bet, the country’s security agency. Now retired, the men offer a candid and often critical assessment of the way Israel has handled the Palestinian conflict.

The movie and another Israeli film, “Five Broken Cameras,” have been nominated for an Academy Award in the best documentary category. Moreh spoke with The Jewish Week by phone from Los Angeles, where he was on a speaking tour of the U.S. This is an edited transcript.

Q: What were you striving for in this film?

A:   My main thing was to create something that will alter the way Israelis see reality. To tell a story they probably know but from a different point of view.

What do you hope viewers will leave your film believing?

Understanding is a better word — understanding that this conflict could have been solved long before, or should have been solved.

Your film and “Five Broken Cameras” are now being spoken of as one by reviewers because they both deal with what one reviewer called “Israel’s oppression of Arab Palestinians.” Should the two films be seen in the same light?

I cannot say anything about “Five Broken Cameras” because I have not seen it. But [my film recorded the views of] the heads of the Israeli secret service who spoke for the first time in the history of the state. These people were responsible for maintaining security. Their boss was only one person, the prime minister. They have been in the forefront of Israeli policy in the West Bank and Gaza, they implemented the policy of the government, they were the ones who carried out the targeted assassinations, who interrogated people.    

Was the fact that these men were self-critical and keenly aware of the suffering their actions caused Palestinians surprising to you?

Yes, absolutely. When you think of the Shin Bet, it is there to prevent terrorism and maintain security. This is something I was completely shocked at. My jaw dropped a few times during the interview to see how much these people considered the morality of the actions they took.

Yaakov Peri, who ran Shin Bet from 1988 to 1994, says in the film, “I think, after retiring from this job, you become a bit of a leftist.” Do you think that accurately reflects the attitude of the other directors as well?

I wouldn’t use the word “leftist.” I’d say that when you retire from the Shin Bet you become more pragmatic. Also for me I cannot call myself a leftist. I am not. My only sister lives in a settlement and my father is right wing, although he will not vote for [Benjamin] Netanyahu. So they are pragmatists. They saw what they did and can now evaluate whether it brought Israel to a better place in terms of security, in terms of assimilating in the region, in terms of being accepted in the region — and they see it only getting worse and worse with each year that passes. This is what I call pragmatism.

In Jewish history there is always the fight between the pragmatists and extremists. During the fall of the Second Temple in Jerusalem there were the pragmatists who said we should understand what the Romans want, and we should understand where we are geopolitically and what needs to be done. The extremists said, “No, we have to act.” At the end of the day the extremist point of view won and the result was 2,000 years of annihilation of almost all the Jewish society in Israel. We are, in my point of view, not far away from that now.

How so?

The ultra-Orthodox, ultra-religious, ultra-extreme right wing are controlling the government, are dictating to the government what needs to be done and not seeing the pragmatic view of what needs to be done in order to save the Jewish state as a Jewish state. If this continues, we will end up regrettably the way we did 2,000 years ago. I know that you cannot deduce from what happened in history to the future, but this is what I feel and this is what I feel also the heads of the Shin Bet are telling us.

Do you actually foresee the destruction of the Jewish state?

I cannot say those words openly. It’s hard for me to say that Israel would be destroyed — almost unbearable to say those words — but it is not going to go to a good place.

Last Update:

09/16/2013 - 18:49

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Good journalism demands balance and this can be no less for movies. When discussing war, we speak of invasive or defensive wars. This film gives the impression that terrorism was born in a vacuum. We are also informed that Israeli governments had no strategic plans following the acquisition of the West Bank & Gaza. No attempts at problem resolution? What about Begin's ideas on autonomy? And in more recent times, the efforts of Olmert & Livni? While offering unlimited criticism, neither the director nor his newly created actors, present any ideas on problem resolution, other than that talks between the parties must resume. And if they do, what can be the expectation if neither side is willing to offer any concessions on at least 3 core issues?
By now, it should be obvious to all, that what is at stake is not simply a piece of land but ideology, and in fact, religious ideology. The Arabs make no secret of their thoughts and for Israelis there are lessons to be learnt from the past and in particular events following on every concession.

This is one of those rare times that I hear Israelis who care about the well being of the Jews, speak out in a frank and candid way. The way Israel is handling its affair, it has implemented it self in the region, the way it's abusing and discriminating against the Palestinians, and covering up-or trying to cover up,as things are finely have to come to the surface-will ultimately take it to a place that Jews don't wish to see themselves again. How much attention is giving to this matter in a serious way by the Israeli/Jewish leadership? Not very much, or at least not enough. The Palestinians,(making peace with them ,and restoring their full rights) are the best opportunity for Israel, and The Jews to rid themselves of the persistent history of outcasts, and discrimination, not just in the region, but all over. Those who are blinded with their Jewishness, and the night mares of fear and persecution, the memory of the Holocaust, will not be able to see that. So the ones who have the capability to see farther ahead should speak up, and lead. Sometimes,knowing should be enough to stop a down hill slide, and crimes from being committed. I am going to see this film.

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