Last night’s screening of the controversial Israeli documentary, “The Gatekeepers”, on the Sony lot in Culver City, left our audience in silence for a short while – a stunned silence, as it turned out. The powerful film is composed of interviews with six former heads of Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service – the first time all of them had been interviewed. Each of these men (and they are all men) presided over “the dark side” of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, including rough interrogation methods, targeted killings and, in at least one case, the summary execution of two Palestinians for their involvement in a bus hijacking (the infamous Bus 300 affair in 1984). But now that each of these Shin Bet leaders has retired they all say that Israel is on the wrong path, and counsel negotiations – not military force – as a way to solve the problems between Israelis and Palestinians. “For Israel it is too much of a luxury not to speak to our enemies,” said one.
The film showed how Shin Bet collected information on thousands of Palestinians, but was unable to prevent the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 by a Jewish radical, which effectively put the peace process on hold. In a question and answer session after the film with Dalia Kaye, an Israel expert from RAND corporation, and Anthony Chase, an authority on human rights and the Muslim world, it was clear that the obstacles to a peace agreement between the two sides are now greater than ever. Kaye said that Israelis have become accustomed to the status quo – partly because the activities of Shin Bet and others have made day-to-day life in Israel safer, at least for the time being. But longer term dangers abound, and without any charismatic leader pushing for negotiations, neither of our panelists saw any chance of near-term change. As the Shin Bet chief from 1995 to 2000, Ami Ayalon said in the film, paraphrasing Clausewitz, “Victory is simply the creation of a better political reality” – have Israel’s efforts in the past 45 years had brought a better political reality? “I think no.”
Our screenings, which have been carefully selected to embrace important issues in world affairs, have been proving very popular. The next screening will be a documentary called “Pandora’s Promise” on June 3rd, which takes a counter-intuitive look at the nuclear power industry in the US and around the world.