Readings: Israel Self-Destruction in 'The Gatekeepers'


This was a film experience unlike any other I had experienced. Saturday afternoon when I approached the ticket office the SOLD OUT sign flickered up. When I returned on Monday I just squeezed in for one of the last seats. The film was a grim documentary. Since when do documentaries pack them in? I scanned the audience; something else was going on. Everyone was talking to one another, as if they had come together as one family; and during the preview for a comedy about a Jewish song they laughed and hummed along. Was I the only gentile in the room? “The Gatekeepers,” the Israeli documentary competing for the Academy Award, began and the silence fell.


The audience knew what they were there for. They had read the reviews and spread the word. The honor of Israel, as well as its political future, was on the table. For those who have been following the Israeli press and the few American publications like The Nation who are brave enough to speak honestly, Israel’s troubles were not all the fault of hostile neighbors. For those still committed to the Israel which Moses declared must prove that they were God’s chosen people by of the justice of their laws, the news was not good.

We are facing a fuzzy black and white satellite’s view of a Gaza neighborhood with the crosshairs in the center of the screen tracking a large vehicle moving slowly through the streets. Suddenly the car explodes in a burst of fire and smoke. Its passengers are incinerated. An enemy, a “terrorist,” was in the car. Who else? More terrorists? His family? We do not know.

Our hosts, most well built and wearing bright blue shirts, are six former directors of the Shin Bet, Israel’s rough equivalent of the C.I.A., who ran Shin Bet under eight prime ministers from 1980 to 2011, through Palestinian uprising on the West Bank and in Gaza, and the assassination by a Jew of Yitzhak Rabin, the one man close to making peace, in 1995.

In their treatment of prisoners these men were no better than their American counterparts; following the 1984 hijacking of an Israeli bus the army caught two terrorists and started beating them to death. While they were still alive a soldier checked with Shin Bet headquarters on what to do next. The word came down, “Hit them again and finish it.” So they took a rock and bashed their heads in. One blogger commenting on the film, Philip Weiss, writes, “Our informants are murderers. . . They may think they’ve redeemed themselves with this film. I don’t.” Later the historical footage shows a Palestinian old woman working feverishly to break rocks so the rioting young will have something to throw at the Israeli troops.

The film — and ironically Israel’s downfall — begins in 1967 with Israel’s unlawful continued occupation of the West Bank following the six-day war. These tough realistic men still love Israel and they are demonstrating their love by telling it and us the truth about its situation today. They make no excuses for their immoral behavior, other than to proclaim that to fight terrorism they concluded that that one must forget about morality. They share what they have learned. One quotes Clauswitz, the most-quoted philosopher of war, that victory is best described as achieving a “better political reality” than what preceded. Not the annihilation of the enemy. Furthermore, peace cannot be achieved by the military waging war, but only by rational discourse. In its struggle to control the Palestinians, to deny them their own homeland, Israel has won every battle and has lost the war. Worse, they have become like the Germans who occupied Western Europe in World Ware II. They have become cruel.

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen (2/5/13) draws an additional lesson applicable to the United States. He asks whether there is another country where “tough guys cite philosophers,” and “accuse their bosses of being weak unimaginative leaders.” What U.S. film crew will get the former directors of the C.I.A. to “admit that the war in Afghanistan is an unconscionable botch—a bloody, daily, slog without end or justification”?

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Christopher Rushlau
5 years 11 months ago
This op-ed's blase political correctness supports my theory that the US establishment is using Israel, as it has always used it, as a means for concentrating Jews preparatory to their extinguishing. Israel is a professedly racist state (what else does "Jewish state" mean?). The US endorses this state. Thus the US is racist. US history has not suddenly taken a u-turn, then, after the genocidal conquest of the landmass, African slavery, the Vietnam War (three million Vietnamese died, according to Bill Clinton), or the Global War On Terror, where, to US military people, all the people in Iraq and Afghanistan are "hajis", singular "haji", a term my sergeant and supervisor, an African-American, translated as "n*gger", to which the "white" captain replied, "But I don't call them that to their face." This raises a question for Jews: are they going lamb-like to their destruction? The wiggle room for Israel in the Arab Spring, which was preceded by the Persian Spring of 1979, is coming down to the decision to nuke itself and the region--or not: Masada, or not? And it raises a question for US people. Are we done with being racist at the core of our constitution? Does it raise a question for Christians? What is the relationship between faith and reason? When we say, "reason does not contradict revelation", which is supposed to defer? How do we tell what is reasonable? Let me offer the words of Aristotle, endorsed by Aquinas and made the center of Karl Rahner's life work: there is no knowledge without the phantasm, the mental image. What are we holding in our minds when we endorse the Jewish state? What happened to J.C. Murray and the meshing of US Constitutional values and gospel values? What happened to the separation of church and state and the equal treatment of the laws? What happened to our social church?
5 years 10 months ago
February 27, 2013 In "Readings: Israel Self-Destruction in 'The Gatekeepers'" (February 26, 2013), Raymond A. Schroth, S.J. is honest enough to admit that the behavior of the Israeli Shin Bet is pretty much the same as that of "their American counterparts." But to that he should have added that the behavior of the Israeli Shin Bet is also pretty much the same as that of all their counterparts, in spite of the fact that few other nations are under nearly the same level of threat Israel is under. Can Fr. Schroth point to any national security/counter-terrorism agency that does not behave in ways that would shock the average citizen? Does he believe his readers are naive enough to think that it is only Israeli and American covert operatives that behave this way? Perhaps, instead of this attempt to paint Israel as a uniquely morally corrupt nation, what Fr. Schroth might have reflected upon was the heightened degree of public self-criticism of these former Shin Bet directors, that is reflective of a truly moral society. Perhaps this is what makes Israel unique, even as it opens itself up to the kind of perhaps unfriendly criticism leveled by Fr. Schroth. Maybe it is time to stop holding Israel up to our ethical microscope and demanding, as Fr. Schroth does, that they behave not like the rest of the world, but rather like "God’s chosen people." Let’s judge them by the same standards we judge ourselves and every other nation by. Israel might shock Fr. Schroth then by looking pretty good in comparison. Rev. James Loughran, SA
Keyran Moran
5 years 10 months ago
Dear JL, Your are writing your earnest prose from the center of the Holocaust Hysteria. Your write that "few are under nearly the same level of THREAT Israel is under." Where did you learn this delirium? You must be a reader of Benny Morris' "Righteous Victims"--which concludes with lamentation that "it is all their fault, the Barbarian Brownies." Dear JL, you are a victim of the greatest Scam-Sham in the history of the USA. You have fallen for the LIE--- LAMENTATION INDIGNATION EXPLOITATION and from the fact that the American bishops are a Vichy crowd--more fearful of the sex scandals than they are of silence----- for the benefit of the Lobby which happily sends American youth into harm's way and into suicide's way by order of the American Zionists.


The latest from america

Most of the undocumented immigrants who are in the United States have overstayed a visa and did not cross the border illegally, according to a new analysis from the Center of Migration Studies.
J.D. Long-GarcíaJanuary 22, 2019
The church is my home because my home was a domestic church.
Katie Prejean McGradyJanuary 22, 2019
Teachers and supporters hold signs in the rain during a rally on Jan. 14 in Los Angeles. Thousands of Los Angeles teachers went on strike for the first time in three decades after contract negotiations failed in the nation's second-largest school district. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Strikes have likewise been prominent in Canada’s southern neighbor over the last year. Teachers in West Virginia made national headlines when strikes across the state won higher wages from a Republican governor and legislature
Dean DettloffJanuary 22, 2019
This year’s W.Y.D takes place less than three months after the conclusion of the Synod for Young People that was held in the Vatican last October.
Gerard O’ConnellJanuary 21, 2019