Thursday, July 24, 2014

THE GATEKEEPERS Explain Netanyahu Clearly

I think Israel’s current prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, poses a great threat to the existence of the state of Israel.  THE GATEKEEPERS is not saying that peace is easy. But it’s within the best interests of Israel to try; to carry on talking. Netanyahu says he's interested in a two-state solution, but I don't think even his son believes that.  -Dror Moreh, director of THE GATEKEEPERS, The Economist magazine, 4/9/13
Dror Moreh's documentary is one of those unique films that is both powerful in its level of insight and almost invincible in terms of critique.  Usually a film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict comes with certain markers or points that make rebuttals inherent.  Take for instance Alan Dershowitz's adaptation of THE CASE FOR ISRAEL, the film is full of so many gaps and points of critique, it seems almost a waste of mental energy to try to thoroughly rebut it.  In that film, talking heads from AIPAC and CAMERA litter the landscape with inane analyses that border on paranoiac delusions.  And in the case of Palestinian documentary, it is clearly stated throughout studies of that national cinema that ideology has always been inherent to the productions, that a post-1948 Palestinian cinema almost accidentally came into existence only because the production of cinema began as an offshoot of the PLO's public relations efforts.
But this is not so with Moreh's film.  Previous to producing this film, the director was responsible for the 2008 documentary SHARON, addressing the former prime minister's biography and his disengagement from Gaza, a film praised by Variety for its balance and fairness.  Obviously, Moreh is not akin to Michael Moore.  Furthermore, he has said in the media he was not inspired by muckraker film makers, his primary muse was Errol Morris's documentary on the life and wisdom of Robert McNamara, THE FOG OF WAR.  There are certain elements in the film that do recall FOG, but it would be foolish to deny that some of the excellent computer generated sequences also bear more than a passing resemblance to STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE, Morris's dissection of the Abu Ghraib scandal, especially in the scene that reconstructs the infamous Bus 300 Scandal, where Shin Bet officers executed several Palestinians after the end of a hostage crisis when the suspects bore no immediate threat.
Based on interviews with the surviving former heads of Shin Bet, Moreh creates a powerful narrative history of the post-1967 conflict and how it evolved and changed over four decades.  By telling this story from Shin Bet's perspective, a cohesive series of events reveals how problematic the situation truly is on the ground.
Following the 1967 war, Shin Bet inherited the duty of developing an intelligence and policing system that would manage the Palestinian population of both the Occupied Territories and Israel proper.  Within seven years, they would also have to take into account the burgeoning settler population, a group driven by an uncompromising vision of Greater Israel hinged on apocalyptic visions of grandeur and a level of respect from the Knesset that frustrated the most elementary efforts of those charged with maintaining the peace.  While each interviewee is far from apologetic about their own actions, they are also harshly critical of the refusal of politicians across the spectrum.
The most haunting episode in the film spans the time between the discovery of a Jewish terrorist plot to detonate a bomb to demolish the Dome of the Rock until the assassination of Yitzak Rabin by an equally fundamentalist lone gunman.  In this section, the true nature of right wing politicians like Sharon and Netanyahu becomes abundantly clear.  After six years of Tea Party protests in America, it is quite easy to see a similar set of behaviors in the Oslo-era Israelis who were revved up to a fever pitch by their manipulative politicians, just as figures like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman have influenced the most militant and gun obsessed types in the American hinterlands.  Indeed, a literalist view of the Bible, a rebuke of laws judged to be anti-religious, and a dark streak of militancy can be seen to define both the settlers and the Tea Party.
Perhaps the most astounding moment comes when one of the interviewees is confronted with a quote from one Professor Liebowitz, who critiqued the Occupation in the following terms after the 1967 land seizure:
"A state ruling over a hostile population of one million foreigners will necessarily become a Shin Bet state, with all that this implies for education, freedom of speech and thought and democracy.  The corruption found in every colonial regime will affix itself to the State of Israel.  The administration will have to suppress an Arab uprising on one hand and acquire Quislings, or Arab traitors, on the other."
In reply, the interviewee says every prediction he made, with some difference in nuance, is exactly what has come to pass.  It is in this sense Dror succeeds, making it clear what the highest echelons of the Shin Bet understand as their real duty.
However, Dror is not totally successful.  In highlighting the perspective of these former leaders, he tends to make them seem innocent, simply following orders and caught in an almost Kafka-like bureaucratic nightmare.  He is unwilling to assign responsibility to these men, despite the fact they could have made the most vital impact throughout their tenures.  In this sense, Dror has made what Max Blumenthal calls 'shoot-and-cry' cinema, a cathartic apologetic that will not go the extra mile.  One only needs to wonder what a Palestinian interviewee would have added to this film to understand this fault.  However, while imperfect because of this, it is certainly an essential film for anyone interested in understanding the conflict from a real Israeli perspective as opposed to the false spectrum proposed by groups like CAMERA.

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