“The Gatekeepers,” the leading candidate for this year’s Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, begins with ominous music. It informs viewers that Shin Bet is the secret Israeli agency dealing with terrorism. Then three sentences flash slowly across the screen, one by one:
For the last 30 years only six men have led the organization.
They have never been interviewed.
The film is intended, according to its website, as “the ultimate cautionary tale of what happens to people and nations alike when they try to answer violence with violence,” told by six former heads of the Shin Bet, who “for the first time ever … share their insights” about what Israel needs to do: change course, talk to anyone, and reach an agreement with the Palestinians.
But this is not the first time ex-Shin Bet leaders have been publicly interviewed. Their first interview — in 2003 — resulted in a disastrous change of course, one that haunts the “peace process” to this day. And not a word about it is mentioned in “The Gatekeepers.”
On November 13, 2003, Israel's largest-circulation newspaper published a two-hour joint interview with all four ex-Shin Bet chiefs, with a front-page banner headline reading: “Four directors of [Shin Bet] warn: Israel in grave danger.” The New York Times reported the interview the next day; so did the Washington Post, on its own front page.
In Britain, the Guardian's story was headlined “Israel on road to ruin, warn Shin Bet chiefs.” CNN, ABC, Fox and almost all the important press in the world carried extensive coverage of the interview. The ex-Shin Bet chiefs urged Israel to start dismantling settlements even before reaching a peace agreement.
At the time of the 2003 interview, Israel was insisting that before negotiating a Palestinian state, the Palestinians had to stop their terror war against Israel. The war had commenced in September 2000, after Yasser Arafat was offered a state at Camp David – and walked away. In December 2000, the Clinton Parameters were presented to both sides: they were accepted by Israel and rejected by Arafat.
In April 2003, the Palestinians agreed to the “Performance-Based Roadmap,” which required dismantlement of their terrorist groups in Phase I before final status talks in Phase III. By November, 2003, they still had not done so. Prime Minister Sharon’s position remained that security must precede a Palestinian state — and that any shortcuts in the process would fail.
The bombshell 2003 interview was intended to force a change of course on Mr. Sharon, who had campaigned in 2001 on a promise to keep the Gaza settlements for Israeli security (because “the fate of Netzarim will be the fate of Tel Aviv”). A former president, Ezer Weizman, called the ex-Shin Bet leaders the “four musketeers” and castigated them for undermining the government. Mr. Sharon was deeply offended by the interview, but felt forced to change course.
Five weeks later Mr. Sharon shocked the Israeli public (and the United States) by announcing his disengagement plan. As it was developed over the next year, the plan involved the removal of every settlement and soldier from Gaza and dismantlement of four more settlements in Samaria (to show the policy would be “Gaza first, not Gaza last”). In Haaretz, Aluf Benn reported why Mr. Sharon adopted the plan:
[T]he fateful decision was made between November 10th and 17th, 2003. … The main topic was a joint interview in Yedioth Ahronot by four former chiefs of the Shin Bet … in which they warned that Sharon was leading the country to the abyss … [T]he former Shin Bet chiefs managed to shake Sharon’s self-confidence; he broke and agreed to unilateral withdrawal.
The rest is history: Israel withdrew from Gaza, and Gaza turned into Hamastan within a week. A new rocket war against Israel commenced from Judenrein Gaza, and Hamas took over the whole area in 2007 in a coup. Israel had to take military action to stop the rockets in 2008 and again in 2012. There is no realistic possibility of negotiating a Palestinian state while half of it remains in the hands of a terrorist group (and the other half in the hands of a Palestinian “president” currently in the ninth year of his four-year term).
That is the legacy of the first interview of the ex-Shin Bet chiefs. In retrospect, we can pinpoint when the “peace process” went completely off the tracks: when Gaza became Hamastan, after the Israeli prime minister — under public pressure from the “gatekeepers” — reneged on his campaign pledge, dismantled Jewish settlements, and withdrew from Gaza, leaving Palestinian terrorist groups intact.
“The Gatekeepers” fails to note the 2003 interview, or what happened as a result of it, or what conclusions can fairly be drawn from the ensuing experience. The film hides the fact that the ex-Shin Bet leaders were interviewed years before; that their ideas were adopted; that their prescription was given a real-life test, and that it blew up in Israel’s face.
As David Suissa has written in The Jewish Journal, an Oscar-worthy documentary would have been one showing this story: “Security hawks speak up, policymakers listen up, a heart-wrenching evacuation of 8,000 Jews ensues, terrorist rockets are launched from the evacuated areas, and a nation is left bewildered as to what to do next.” But no Oscar would likely be awarded for such a film.
Director Dror Moreh says he decided “the time has come for the Gatekeepers to address the people at large,” and he hopes “The Gatekeepers” “initiates that dialogue.” In fact, the dialogue already occurred, nearly a decade ago, on the front page of Israel’s leading paper and elsewhere. We already know how it turned out — although not from this film. In Suissa’s words, the real question the film presents is “How can a dubious and unoriginal Israeli movie become the darling of the film world and even get nominated for an Academy Award?”
Mr. Richman is editor of Jewish Current Issues.