The Gatekeepers

A documentary about Shin Bet! Yay! Wait, who?

Shin Bet is something like the Israeli FBI which is the sort of comparison that invites recognition without noting scale. Shin Bet is something like the Israeli FBI, if America were outnumbered 100-to-1 by people wanting to destroy it.

Yeah, that’s more like it.

On the one hand, this is a fascinating look at people who have one of the hardest jobs in the world: maintaining the safety of a free state surrounded by enemies. This look is provided by a half-dozen former Shin Bet heads, talking about various incidents in Israeli history and how they were handled, for better or for worse.

But.

But.

But.

You’ll see people saying that this is a “balanced” movie because people on both sides felt it was biased in favor of the other side.

No.

There’s no moral equivalency here. Let’s take an example: the Bus 300 affair, where terrorists hijack a bus full of people, and are soon captured by Shin Bet and the army. The terrorists that survived were beaten to near death by the army, and then finished off by Shin Bet, with the head guy thinking “No live terrorists on trial.”

You can argue that the law should protect those in its custody, and therefore the beating and deaths of these terrorists was wrong. But it’s a minor crime compared to killing 41 innocent people, which is what was at stake.

There’s another incident where Shin Bet stops an internal Jewish terrorist group, plotting to blow the dome off the Temple Mount mosque. But it’s Shin Bet that stops them. The terrorists get off light—but they also don’t plot more terrorist activities, putting them way ahead of most of the Muslim terrorists who (e.g.) get out of Gitmo.

Even if you consider them equivalent, I note again they were caught by Shin Bet. When was the last time a Palestinian group caught a Palestinian terrorist group? Ever?

I kept telling myself, “Blake, these are the former heads of Shin Bet. They probably understand the situation a little better than you.” Yet it seemed like they were drawing equivalencies that are unconscionable.

Creative editing aside, I began to think of Colonel David Hackworth. “Hack” was a great colonel who died around the time of the second Iraq war. He was against it. Not on the basis of Saddam not being a bad guy who didn’t need to be taken out, but on the basis of not wanting to see WMDs used on our troops.

And then I thought back to all the opinions I’d ever heard him give, and they were universally on the side of “We shouldn’t do this because our troops will get killed.” And this was not the pacifist’s abstraction. It occurred to me that this is a guy who’d seen his boys killed over decades—from the time he was a boy (he joined the last days of WWII when he was 14). That has to take a toll.

Similarly, these guys running Shin Bet have had to do things nobody should have to do. Of course they want things to change!

I just can’t buy the premise that the Israelis are anything like equally responsible for the situation, as long as their enemies embrace terrorism.

So, while we liked the movie quite a bit, it also made us very suspicious. It was exactly the sort of thing you’d expect to see from the safety of Encino, if that makes sense.

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