Ami Ayalon is the former director of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, from 1996 to 2000. In the latter half of The Gatekeepers he invokes the concept of the Banality of Evil to explain how after enough time on the job, the killing of large numbers of people doesn’t have any psychological burden anymore. Hannah Arendt meant something different when she made up the term in 1963 as the subtitle for her novel Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. But no one can deny the effectiveness of a director of Shin Bet using the same term to describe his own group that was originally used to explain the motivation of a Nazi convicted and hanged by Israel for crimes against the human race.
The Gatekeepers is not just about Ayalon’s interpretation of Shin Bet’s history. Abraham Shalom, director of the agency from 1981 to 1986, explains that there was no strategy, only tactics. Shin Bet operated without the limits of morality because the focus was on counter-terrorism and not on the peace process with the Palestinians. He argued the organization was to be blamed for their technical mistakes and not for the ethical problems found in most of their failures. This is the central issue of Dror Moreh’s documentary.
These issues are not easy to solve and Moreh has not made it easy for himself. The Gatekeepers tackles a broad range of issues that stretches from 1967 to the 21st century. It is said to be a multi-headed hydra version of Errol Morris’ The Fog of War. IT contains six different perspectives instead of just one.
Moreh interviewed every living former director of Shin Bet. They are bright tacticians and talented politicians. Each one of them has enough baggage to fill up a documentary of its own. The former directors are honest but you can tell that they still have some secrets regarding the mistakes of their decision making process.