JW Q&A: The Shin Bet’s Interviewer


Israeli film director Dror Moreh has just released his latest film, “The Gatekeepers,” a documentary that consists of interviews with six men who formerly directed Israel’s Shin Bet, the country’s security agency. Now retired, the men offer a candid and often critical assessment of the way Israel has handled the Palestinian conflict.

The movie and another Israeli film, “Five Broken Cameras,” have been nominated for an Academy Award in the best documentary category. Moreh spoke with The Jewish Week by phone from Los Angeles, where he was on a speaking tour of the U.S. This is an edited transcript.

Q: What were you striving for in this film?

A: My main thing was to create something that will alter the way Israelis see reality. To tell a story they probably know but from a different point of view.

What do you hope viewers will leave your film believing?

Understanding is a better word — understanding that this conflict could have been solved long before, or should have been solved.

Your film and “Five Broken Cameras” are now being spoken of as one by reviewers because they both deal with what one reviewer called “Israel’s oppression of Arab Palestinians.” Should the two films be seen in the same light?

I cannot say anything about “Five Broken Cameras” because I have not seen it. But [my film recorded the views of] the heads of the Israeli secret service who spoke for the first time in the history of the state. These people were responsible for maintaining security. Their boss was only one person, the prime minister. They have been in the forefront of Israeli policy in the West Bank and Gaza, they implemented the policy of the government, they were the ones who carried out the targeted assassinations, who interrogated people.

Was the fact that these men were self-critical and keenly aware of the suffering their actions caused Palestinians surprising to you?

Yes, absolutely. When you think of the Shin Bet, it is there to prevent terrorism and maintain security. This is something I was completely shocked at. My jaw dropped a few times during the interview to see how much these people considered the morality of the actions they took.

Yaakov Peri, who ran Shin Bet from 1988 to 1994, says in the film, “I think, after retiring from this job, you become a bit of a leftist.” Do you think that accurately reflects the attitude of the other directors as well?

I wouldn’t use the word “leftist.” I’d say that when you retire from the Shin Bet you become more pragmatic. Also for me I cannot call myself a leftist. I am not. My only sister lives in a settlement and my father is right wing, although he will not vote for [Benjamin] Netanyahu. So they are pragmatists. They saw what they did and can now evaluate whether it brought Israel to a better place in terms of security, in terms of assimilating in the region, in terms of being accepted in the region — and they see it only getting worse and worse with each year that passes. This is what I call pragmatism.

In Jewish history there is always the fight between the pragmatists and extremists. During the fall of the Second Temple in Jerusalem there were the pragmatists who said we should understand what the Romans want, and we should understand where we are geopolitically and what needs to be done. The extremists said, “No, we have to act.” At the end of the day the extremist point of view won and the result was 2,000 years of annihilation of almost all the Jewish society in Israel. We are, in my point of view, not far away from that now.

How so?

The ultra-Orthodox, ultra-religious, ultra-extreme right wing are controlling the government, are dictating to the government what needs to be done and not seeing the pragmatic view of what needs to be done in order to save the Jewish state as a Jewish state. If this continues, we will end up regrettably the way we did 2,000 years ago. I know that you cannot deduce from what happened in history to the future, but this is what I feel and this is what I feel also the heads of the Shin Bet are telling us.

Do you actually foresee the destruction of the Jewish state?

I cannot say those words openly. It’s hard for me to say that Israel would be destroyed — almost unbearable to say those words — but it is not going to go to a good place.