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October 20th, 2014

The Gatekeepers

February, 1945: President Roosevelt met with Saudi King Ibn Saud to discuss the postwar future of the Middle East.

FDR asked the Arab monarch what he thought about the idea of establishing a Jewish state on the Eastern Mediterranean.

“How about putting this Jewish state somewhere in Germany?” King Saud responded, “because putting it in the Middle East is a bad idea.”

Sixty-eight years later, Israel is in a perpetual state of war, struggling just to survive. On the front-lines of this struggle is Shin Bet – Israel’s powerful security agency.

“The Gatekeepers” is a depressing and enlightening documentary about the history of Shin Bet, told from the point of view of six old men who used to run the agency.

During the first 20 years of Israel’s history, the country’s primary defense force was the army.

Everything changed in 1967.

Egypt, Jordan, and Syria teamed up for a coordinated attack on Israel. The Six Day War was an absolute triumph for Israel. Not only did the army easily repel the attack, it conquered hundreds of square miles of Arab land – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The good news was that Israel’s neighbors were now too scared to try to invade. The bad news was that now Israel had to deal with a brand new enemy: Palestinian terrorists.

Shin Bet were pioneers in the war on terror, and they made up the rules as they went along.

The film follows the evolution of the agency’s tactics. At first, Shin Bet acted like a military police force – systematically arresting, bullying, and interrogating tens of thousands of Palestinians to gather information and uncover threats.

Today, Shin Bet is more like an episode of “Homeland” – with super spies using super high tech intelligence gathering devices and killing machines.

The men who ran Shin Bet do not apologize for their actions.

When one of the interviewees was asked by an American about an ugly incident in which bad intel led Shin Bet to bomb a civilian apartment building, the Israeli was defiant. He responded that since 9/11, the United States has killed thousands of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan in an effort to try to prevent another terrorist attack. Israel isn’t doing anything worse than America has.

The difference is that for Israel, failing to keep terrorists in check won’t mean just more attacks – it will mean the complete annihilation of their country.

However, the retired Shin Bet officers certainly don’t defend everything that their government has done.

They all agree that Israel made a terrible tactical and moral mistake when it occupied the West Bank and Gaza. And they scold the government for letting Israeli extremists settle in Palestinian lands.

In a particularly candid moment, one of the Israelis admits that he understands why Palestinians think of him as a terrorist.

King Saud was right all along. As you can tell, I basically support Israel. But that doesn’t change the fact that it was a short-sighted mistake to put the Jewish home state in the heart of the Middle East.

As long as Israel continues to exist, it will be a perpetual war zone – a war zone in which the very worst of humanity is on display.

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