1. I was invited to a discussion of the Israeli Documentary Filmmakers Forum recently. To prepare, I watched the two films that represented Israel in the American Academy Awards' documentary film category -- Dror Moreh's "The Gatekeepers" and "5 Broken Cameras" by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi. Despite the harsh reviews they received, I recommend seeing them. They represent a perspective that needs to be dealt with.
I'll write about "The Gatekeepers" now and save "5 Broken Cameras" for another time. The sycophantic interviews of Dror Moreh in the American media did not bode well for his ability to decode the riddle of the heads of the Shin Bet. They do not say much that is deep in the film. Perhaps this is because Moreh could not deal with such minds or because he was interested not in psychological or intellectual depth, but rather in the political story in which the heads of the Shin Bet served as statistics to fill in the left wing's version of the failure of the Oslo Accords.
The theme of "shooting and weeping" has been well known since we came back to our country and had to defend it with our lives, together with the necessity of taking the lives of others. Now even the heads of the Shin Bet have doubts. This either-or quality is the bread and butter of drama: morality versus terrorism, combat versus conscience, control versus the desire for liberty. The film opens with former Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin's motto: "There's something unnatural about taking the lives of people in a single second."
His predecessor, Avraham Shalom, gives away the film's implied position: "Because of terrorism, we forget the issue of the Palestinian state." Why did we forget? Maybe terrorism was the goal from the onset, and the Palestinians actually never wanted a state? But Moreh is not showing statements that could put cracks in his narrative.
While the film pretends to present complexity, it never fulfills its promise. It shows the world as black and white, and the historical excerpts have no profound context. The Six-Day War. A Palestinian population. Occupation. That's it. There's no discussion about our historical, religious and cultural context as a nation living in this region. Not a word about our principled claim to sovereignty over it.
2. One of the film's focal points is the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, but not as a failure of the Shin Bet; Moreh doesn't ask uncomfortable questions. He does not ask about the Shin Bet's involvement; the use of the agent Avishai Raviv, who was close to assassin Yigal Amir; or about the dilemma of planting provocateurs among the settlers. The settlers are shown in the context of madness, irrationality and menace. The Jewish underground of the time appears as a stereotype that is supposed to represent the entire settlement enterprise. It seemed that in those parts of the film, we were back in the 1980s, when there was no color television in Israel, but only black (the settlers) and white.
Moreh repeats the lie of the demonstration at Zion Square on Oct. 5, 1995 against the Oslo Accords as if those who were on the balcony had seen the photo montage of Rabin in an SS uniform. Had he read the Shamgar Commission report's secret fourth chapter about Avishai Raviv, he would have found out who distributed the photo in the media. (Surprise: It was a Shin Bet agent.) Moreh also repeats the lie about Netanyahu and the coffin that was carried during another demonstration that was said to represent Rabin. That same year, students demonstrated with coffins representing the death of higher education. The coffin at the demonstration symbolized the death of Zionism, not of Rabin, as the writing on it clearly shows. But Moreh is not looking for truth. He seeks only to confirm his version of events, and uses Rabin's assassination to show what he sees as the right wing's culpability.
This point is important because Rabin's assassination could have served as a profound mirror for decoding something in the enigmatic personalities of the heads of the Shin Bet. But Moreh is interested only in the oft-repeated, two-dimensional complaint: the occupation. Moreh's version of events posits that the killing of Yahya Ayyash, who was responsible for the murder of so many Israelis, led to a chain of suicide bombings. Those bombings, as he sees it, were our fault.
The Second Intifada, which broke out in September 2000, is explained similarly. Ami Ayalon gives a justification for it, and there is no mention of how Arafat planned it in advance, as most experts claim. There is no historical context, only the platitude "violence breeds violence," a vague equation that draws its nourishment from moral relativism and rejects the idea that a righteous person is any different from a wicked one. No distinction is made between good and evil; everything, including the victim's attempt to defend himself, is bound up in the general concept of "violence." On second thought, the film actually does decide who is good and who is evil.
Avraham Shalom, who was the head of the Shin Bet when the Bus 300 affair took place, plays a prominent role in the film. In April 1984, terrorists who hijacked a bus were captured, bound and killed. Shalom was considered the toughest of the six Shin Bet heads, and it is hard to get away from the impression that he wanted to clear himself. But nothing can clear Shalom of his statement in the film that our army resembles the German army during World War II (!).
Indeed, he qualifies the statement: He's not referring to the way the German army treated the Jews, but the way it treated the Belgians, the Poles and so on. Still, Shalom had hundreds of examples to choose from, but chose one that makes a clear statement: The Israel Defense Forces resemble the Nazi army. After such a foolish statement, can one ever claim otherwise? And as if that were not enough, Ayalon comes along and calls the targeted killings "the banality of evil." From where I sit, that's the peak of the film and a distillation of Moreh's basic assumption.
3. To understand how banal it is to drop intellectual bombshells, we should remember where the expression comes from. It is taken from the title of the book the German-Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote about Adolf Eichmann's trial in 1961: "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil." For Arendt, Eichmann was a man of ordinary character, a "banal" man who participated in the greatest crime in history.
Now, here comes Ayalon's analogy. He compares Israel's adherence to the moral dictum of "if one comes to kill you, rise early and kill him first" to the banality of evil. In such a comparison, there is no choice but to see Israel's defensive surgical strikes as evil. The comparison does not stop there; it goes backward in time to Eichmann and his actions, which are the source of the expression.
So it is that two heads of the Shin Bet compare Israel to Nazi Germany. Can there be a clearer expression of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of Israel's old-time elite? A thousand public-relations teams throughout the world can never overcome the moral failure of those to whom we entrusted our security. These awful statements are exactly what the director wanted. An analysis of the film reveals his view that Israel's actions in Judea and Samaria are equivalent to the acts of the Germans in World War II.
Moreh chooses to end the film with a highly significant scene: Palestinian detainees in their underwear. As is customary for him, he offers no explanation for the detainees' nakedness, which stems from the fear that they may be wearing explosive belts. What remains in the viewers' memories is the photograph of the Palestinians whom the wicked Israeli system has forced, in its banal arbitrariness, to undress and pass by en masse.