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Senior secret agents from Israel’s Shin Bet come out of the dark to defy official policy on the Israel – Palestine conflict in a film by Dror Moreh that could well be an agent of change, as Andrew L. Urban reports.

The secret agent is a figure generally seen as … well, secret. Doing dark deeds to protect the interests of his country, or at least his country’s government. In Dror Moreh’s powderkeg doco, The Gatekeepers, six of the most senior of secret agents, past heads of Israel’s secret intelligence organisation, the Shin Bet, come out of the dark to speak openly, frankly about their work – and in the process they have galvanised Israeli public opinion about the central socio-political issue of the region: Israel – Palestine.

The film opened in Israeli cinemas in January 2012 and smashed box office records to become the biggest grossing Israeli documentary, while its extended, five-hour television version has become the highest rating doco ever screened on that country’s government-owned channel.

"Israelis should be talking to Palestinians to seek a two state solution"

The reason for this level of interest is the common message from all six: Israelis should be talking to Palestinians to seek a two state solution. This is not a new call, but coming as it does after several failed attempts and the continuation of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, the fact that ‘the gatekeepers’ of Israel’s security organisation are making it, it’s sensational stuff. 

In Israel the response to the film has been “overwhelming,” as its director Dror Moreh, told SBS Film journalist Lynden Barber. Moreh is visiting Australia as a guest of the Israeli Film Festival where the film is screening ahead of its September 5, 2013 commercial cinema release. “It was endorsed by almost everybody as a very strong, powerful and important movie. As to the political message, which is definitely controversial in Israel, I would say the moderate centre right and centre left endorsed the film completely.

“The right and extreme right tried to discredit the movie, but it was very hard for them. Normally the people who would advocate a two-state solution and reconciliation would be left wing people. When this message comes from the centre of the defence establishment of Israel, when all of them are saying that, it was a really hard task for those extreme right-wing people to tackle the message of the film.”

Barber quotes Moreh saying that while there were some differences of opinion between the six, “at the end of the day, all of them are for a two-state solution. All of them say there is a partner on the other side [the Palestinian Authority], that the claim of Israel that ‘there is no partner’ has no basis. There is a partner and we can do peace. All of them believe the occupation is corrupting the morality of Israeli civilian society. All of them. Having said that, you cannot say that all of them are similar or saying the same thing. There are differences. But it’s more in the nuances, it’s not on the major issues.”

"they feel the window for a two-state solution is closing fast"

As Moreh told Barber, “they feel the window for a two-state solution is closing fast. When I started this project I said to them, ‘listen, it is very important you speak, because nobody else has this kind of position towards the Israeli public as you have, as the head of the most professional organisation that knows more about the Israeli-Palestinian [experience] than anybody else’.”

The big question now is whether the film recording the secret agents’ controversial views (controversial in some Israeli quarters) will itself become an agent of change.

Published September 5, 2013

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Dror Moreh


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