Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Plays Out in Oscar Docs


"Gatekeepers," added Schoffman, "is ultimately about policy. Here you have these guys who, one after another, come to the same conclusions: Violence is not the answer. And even though they take pride in, 'Boy, that was a clean one, that one worked really well; from a tactical point of view, that was a success,' at the end of the day it doesn't get you anywhere. The one quote, the takeaway, is [former Shin Bet chief] Yaakov Peri, who says, 'When you finish a job like this, you're a kind of a leftist.'"

Ronen Bergman, an Israeli journalist who writes on intelligence and military affairs, said the most "amazing interview" was with Avraham Shalom, who said, "'The Israeli occupation can be compared to the Nazi occupation of Europe.'" (The comment referred to not the genocide of Jews in Europe, but to the treatment of occupied populations, Shalom hastened to add in the film.) "If anybody else except a former head of Shin Bet had said that," Bergman, added, "he would be completely outcast."

Dror Moreh, the director of "Gatekeepers," admits he was "blown away a lot of times during those interviews." Juxtaposed with comments such as "very clean and elegant" to describe a particular hit are persuasive arguments for dialogue with the Palestinians and neighboring states, including Iran, as well as chilling conversations about the morality of occupation.

The seed of the film was planted several years ago while Moreh, 51, was working on a documentary about former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whom he was told had been influenced by Shin Bet leaders to evacuate settlements in Gaza. Another influence was Errol Morris' Academy Award-winning documentary "The Fog of War," with former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara addressing the lessons of the Vietnam War.

Asked how he persuaded the Shin Bet leaders to talk so candidly on camera, Moreh told ABC News, "You don't get the heads of Shin Bet to speak if they do not want to speak. It was the right timing; they're very concerned about where Israel is heading.

"Israel has managed to win every battle, but she is losing the war," continued Moreh, blending his own opinions with those of the men he profiles. "You cannot in the 21st century maintain an occupied policy against people who don't want to be occupied."

The growing racism among Israelis engendered by the occupation, the habit of seeing the Palestinians as "the other," the lack of compassion, Israel's "moving slowly but surely toward the extreme right" – all that, said Moreh, is turning Israel into "an apartheid state."

Much of the blame, the intelligence chiefs strongly suggest in the film, can be laid at the feet of Israel's political leaders, with the exception of Yitzhak Rabin, whose assassination in 1995 at the hands of a right-wing settler was a major blow and embarrassment to the intelligence service and effectively brought the peace process to an end.

If Moreh came to "Gatekeepers" while filming another documentary, Davidi, 34, who grew up in Israel but spent time in Paris, readily admits that he first showed up on the West Bank for "selfish" reasons. "I was recently back from Paris, where I could sit in a café with an Arab [friend] and discuss life," he told an audience last week at the Core Club, a private club in Manhattan when he and Burnat came to New York to drum up Oscar support for the film. Coming home to Israel, he said, was like "a ghetto," with Israeli Jews together, Palestinians separate. "So the best way to start was to go to the West Bank. There I received a lot of hospitality from people who have nothing."

Full Coverage: 85th Annual Academy Awards

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