- The Australian
- May 18, 2013
Sunday, 19 May 2013
LYONS 18/5 Film draws discomforting home truths from Israeli security chiefs
Film draws discomforting home truths from Israeli security chiefs
He was interviewing Avraham Shalom, a former head of Israel's security service, Shin Bet.
"We have become cruel," Shalom said, referring to the Israeli Defence Forces.
"When he said that, I felt like someone punched me in the gut," says Moreh, who served in a secret unit of the Israeli Air Force.
"I almost lost my breath completely from that."
Shalom's comment was part of 120 hours of interviews Moreh did with the six living former chiefs of Shin Bet.
The result - The Gatekeepers - is now the most-watched documentary in Israeli history and the third-largest grossing Israeli film ever. It will be shown in Australian cinemas nationally in September.
In Israel, Avraham Shalom is a legend, leading the operation in 1960 to kidnap Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann.
In the film, Shalom compares Israel's army today to the Germans in World War II. "I'm not talking about their behaviour towards the Jews ... I mean how they acted to the Poles, the Belgians, the Dutch."
Moreh says Shalom was speaking from direct experience.
"He was beaten almost to death by his classmates after the Kristallnacht." Moreh says Shalom was feeling "as a young Jewish boy what it means to be in a super-racial regime against Jews".
For someone who has spent so much time with the men who know, Moreh's assessment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is ominous.
Is there any hope?
"No, no, no," he replies. "For me, no, I don't see."
Moreh is disturbed about Israel's occupation of the West Bank. "The occupation changes us from within - the mentality, the racial prejudice, all of that - you see it in the Israeli society emerging, like, horrible."
One message of The Gatekeepers is that the Israeli government must lead change.
The Shin Bet chiefs echo US President Barack Obama's message to Israelis in March: "Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer."
During Obama's visit, Israel's President Shimon Peres is believed to have given him a copy of the film. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not seen it - a spokesman said this week that "he's busy".
The film looks at the impact of Israel's occupation in the aftermath of the Six Day War.
"The fact you have total power over other people and you can conduct their life and control whatever they want - whatever you want to do to them, you can do - corrupts you from within."
While The Jerusalem Post said Moreh had "shocked the nation with his brilliant and honest documentary", the film is less popular with a government that strongly supports Jewish settlements, illegal under international law.
The Gatekeepers and the Israeli-Palestinian joint venture Five Broken Cameras were nominated for an Oscar.
However, not one minister congratulated the filmmakers. Instead, Culture Minister Limor Livnat called for self-censorship in filmmaking and said Israel should consider whether films "slander" the nation when deciding funding.
Livnat said she did not even watch the Oscars.
Moreh brands her attitude as "shameful". "In this movie, six heads of Shin Bet, they are the narrative, they are telling the narrative, and if the Minister of Culture of Israel is happy that this film did not win the Oscar, what does it say about us?"
Israel's Foreign Ministry has sent a note to embassies saying the film was "part of the internal discourse in Israel" and that the former Shin Bet chiefs were not "dissidents fighting against the government but rather people at the highest level of the defence establishment who think in an independent and professional manner".
Moreh says the spy chiefs' criticisms cannot be dismissed lightly. "If there is an organisation that understands what is going on amongst the Palestinian society, and amongst the Israeli society as well, because they are in charge of both societies in terms of activities against terror and those kinds of things, these are the guys," he says.
Moreh decided the film needed the participation of all six Shin Bet chiefs. "Because one you can always attack but when you have to deal with five or six that's a completely different opera."
In the film, Yuval Diskin, Shin Bet chief from 2005 to 2011, agrees with Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibovitz, who in 1967 urged Israel not to occupy the West Bank.
Says Moreh: "When everybody was in euphoria, everybody said, 'Wow, we've come back to the land of our ancestors, our prophets'; on the seventh day of the Six Day War, he said on the radio: 'Go out, go out now! It will corrupt you.' "
Moreh is sceptical about Netanyahu's professed commitment to "two states for two peoples".
"I don't believe a word he says. A year ago the Supreme Court ordered him to evacuate four houses - four houses - built on private Palestinian land.
"It was after 12 years of debating with the Supreme Court, they gave an order: 'Finish that, evacuate those houses.'
"What did they do? They kind of cut the houses and moved them like they were holy relics to another place in the settlements and as compensation he's giving them now 1000 more units of building in the settlements."
A theme of the film is that Israel needs to negotiate with those in the Palestinian Authority willing to talk.
Says Moreh: "We have never had partners like them in history and instead of supporting them the government of Israel - the Netanyahu government - is humiliating them, does not discuss anything with them, saying they are terrorists.
"The Foreign Minister of Israel (Avigdor Lieberman) says (PA chief) Abu Mazen is a terrorist. And while we are doing that we are negotiating with Hamas in Gaza for a ceasefire.
"Hamas fired rockets on Tel Aviv and on Jerusalem, which never happened before in the history of Israel, and Netanyahu, the biggest warrior against terror, is negotiating with them, giving them achievement which he never gave someone who supports a two-state solution." Moreh says what most moved him was the number of missed opportunities.
"I'm talking now about the Israelis, because this is my side," he says. "The Palestinians, believe me, had their share in missing opportunities for peace."
Moreh has a message for the Jewish diaspora: do not uncritically support Israel.
"What I have felt in America, very strongly, is that they have adopted a doctrine which says: 'Whatever Israel does, we are for it; we will never criticise Israel in a way because they live in Israel and the Jews who live in Israel know better how to conduct their life and our mission is to support them.'
"I said: 'Definitely support Israel, but if you think the policy of the government of Israel is wrong, why do you think that you should support that?
"In my point of view, I think there is one policy which jeopardises the mere existence of the state of Israel as a Jewish state, as a safe haven for the Jewish people, and this I oppose with all my fibres: that kind of policy which I feel will create apartheid Israel, will create an Israel that will be shunned all over the world, and it will jeopardise the mere reasoning for those Jews who want to support Israel."
Moreh believes Jews around the world have a particular perspective. "I think that the Jews in the diaspora have a guilty conscience because the Israelis are here, they are fighting for the survival of the country, and we have to support that no matter what."
He is deeply pessimistic about the future of his homeland. "Israel is a country that lives in denial. Israel and the Israeli public are like ostriches - they are putting their head inside the sand and saying, 'it's warm here, we don't see anything around us'."
He fears possible "Jewish suicide bombers" and extremists such as Yigal Amir, who killed prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
"I know the amount of hatred from the rabbis, the extreme rabbis in the settlements, rabbi (Dov) Lior and all those crazy, wild bunch, that believe that God gave this country to Israel, they will prevent it in any course," he says.
Moreh says that unless the occupation ends there will be "a big blow".
Is Israel's future guaranteed? "No. Not in my point of view."
Posted by Geoff Seidner at 12:06 pm