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'The Gatekeepers' is an eye-opening look at Israel's past – and possibly its future

'The Gatekeepers' focuses on six of the surviving former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic counterterrorism agency, and their memories of dark days.

By Peter RainerFilm critic / February 1, 2013

From left to right: Avraham Shalom, Ami Ayalon, Yaakov Peri, Yuval Diskin, Avi Dichter, Carmi Gillon, six former heads of Israel's secret service Shin Bet, reflect on their decisions in 'The Gatekeepers.'

Sony Pictures Classics

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In the documentary “The Gatekeepers,” six surviving former heads of Shin Bet, the highly secretive Israeli domestic counterterrorism agency, are interviewed about their histories, which, inevitably, also encompass Israel’s history in the wake of the 1967 war, when the agency was put in charge of counterintelligence in the West Bank and Gaza.

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Although many of these men, who variously ran the agency from 1980 through 2011, have spoken out prior to being interviewed here, “The Gatekeepers,” directed by Dror Moreh, represents the first full-scale documentation of their political lives. It’s an eye-opener.

Contrary to what one might be led to believe, the men are for the most part highly conflicted about their pasts.

“We all have our moments,” says Yuval Diskin. “Maybe you’re shaving and you think, ‘I make a decision and X number of people are killed.’ ” He goes on: “The power to take lives in an instant, there’s something unnatural about it.”

All of the men interviewed – Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter, and Diskin – come across as ruminative and, in varying degrees, remorseful. They share a belief in the curtailment of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the granting of Palestinian statehood. They believe Israeli politicians have not done enough to make this happen. Peri, who ran Shin Bet from 1988 to 1994, during the first intifada leading to the Oslo peace accords, says: “You knock on doors in the middle of the night – these moments end up etched deep inside you. I think, after retiring from this job, you become a leftist.”

But their attitudes are much more complicated than this. Shalom, for example, in his 80s, is characterized by some in the film as a tyrant despite the fact that, with his cuddly jowls and red suspenders, he might have stepped out of an Israeli Pepperidge Farm commercial.

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