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Interview with the Director of the Film, "The Gatekeepers"

Aired January 28, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Our focus tonight: Israel through the filmmaker's lens, against a backdrop of a frozen peace process of Palestinians upgrading their status at the United Nations and the Israeli election surprise that dramatically cut Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's support.

The Oscar spotlight falls on Israel this year. A film called "The Gatekeepers" has been nominated for best documentary. It's the story of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories as told by the security chiefs who had to enforce it and had to fight terrorism.

And it's full of stunning revelations by all six leaders of Israel's Shin Bet, its internal security service who usually live and work in the shadows. It's the first time they've all spoken publicly and they say they've done it now because they are alarmed about Israel's future as a democratic and Jewish state. In the words of one of them, "There was no strategy, just tactics."

In other words, they accused their political leaders of reducing the entire Palestinian question to a matter of fighting terror with no movement on a two-state solution that could finally end the war.

Another says, "You can't make peace using military means." It is a brutally tough and honest account. And director Dror Moreh says that he hopes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will decide to see it one day because no one understands the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians better than these six men.

Dror Moreh joined me in the studio to talk about the warnings "The Gatekeepers" are sending.

AMANPOUR: Dror Moreh, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: This is really a massive wow. You got six -- all the living Shin Bet chiefs together to talk to you in an unprecedented way.

One of your mission statements was that you wanted to hold a mirror up to the Israeli people.

MOREH: Yes. It puts a mirror which you cannot ignore.

These are the guys. If there is someone who understands the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, it's those guys, all of them, speaking for the first time on television, on the cinema, to say enough of the occupation. This is bad for the state of Israel.

AMANPOUR: Let's go to the oldest amongst your subjects, Avraham Shalom, who talks about how Israel's relationship with the Palestinians changed a couple of years into the occupation. Let's just listen.


AVRAHAM SHALOM, SHIN BET (from captions): As soon as stopped dealing with the Palestinian state and started dealing with terrorism, (inaudible) became more sophisticated. So did we. Suddenly we had a lot of work in Gaza and the West Bank and overseas, too. So we forgot about the Palestinian issues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Nablus then, wherever you threw a rock, there was either a cat or a terrorist. Some nights we arrested hundreds of people.


MOREH: He is basically saying that the Israelis got, after 1967, occupied the West Bank and Gaza and they really didn't know what to do with that. So a lot of young Israeli soldiers had to go there and try to understand what do the Palestinians want.

And at the end of the day, because of the lack of foresight, from the leadership to where it's going, strategies versus tactics, you know, OK. I have these territories. Why do I want to take it further away?

Am I going to want to continue to rule those people?

AMANPOUR: You focus a lot in your film -- and they focus a lot on what you've just said -- the difference between tactics and strategy that you say and they say that it just became about terrorism. And no matter how much they pacify the territory, the political move towards a peace settlement wasn't taken.

MOREH: You know, at the end of the day, Christiane, the security forces has their job. And their job is whenever there's terrorism, to suppress that. By doing that, they buy valuable time to the politician to decide where do they want to take this conflict strategically.

Do they want to solve it or not? And they are complaining that, from the beginning -- and I can only say that, beside Rabin's era, which was short- lived, and he was assassinated by an extreme right-wing Jew, all the Israeli politicians never spoke or never thought strategically towards where they want to take it. It was just what lies in front of their faces.

AMANPOUR: So it was just terror, terror, terror and not peace settlements?

MOREH: And when there is the time that you can decide what you want to do, look, for example, the last four years. There was total silence almost from the Palestinian Authority in terms of terrorist attacks. You know, just a day ago, it was published that the last year, no Israeli was killed from terrorist attacks last year from the West Bank.

This is an amazing status, statistics. And the fact that in the last four years the Israelis and the Palestinians didn't try to move forward towards peace, they didn't make the opportunity to use this valuable time that was given to them, to move forward towards peace, is a crime. AMANPOUR: You know, there are some people who've obviously pushed back, saying how can you show such a bad light? One of the early screenings, I read that people looked at the six Shin Bet leaders who were in the Cinematheque at the screening and said, what are you, collaborators? You traitors, why are you saying this now?

MOREH: Well, Christiane, I have to tell you that I think that this is the most pro-Israeli film I've ever created.

When you see the Titanic that is heading towards the iceberg, what would you do, as a friend? Would you try to steer the wheel away from that? Or will you continue to push it towards the iceberg? I think that this is what they are afraid, that the Israeli ship is moving towards an iceberg.

And they're true friends. And they are -- if you can say about those six people, first of all, that they are pragmatic people and, second, that they are true patriots of Israel. And this is what they say.

AMANPOUR: You mentioned the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, who was the one who signed the Oslo Accords and who believed in a peace settlement. I notice in the film that you brought up footage of the rallies before the assassination. And you featured -- at least the rallies featured -- Benjamin Netanyahu.

What were you saying by putting that video in? And what was he saying then?

MOREH: Well, there was a lot of incitement towards Rabin as a prime minister then. And Benjamin Netanyahu took his big share in that. I mean, the demonstration where Netanyahu is headed and behind him there is the coffin of Rabin. And he saw that. I'm absolutely sure that he saw that. He wasn't naive.

And he was heading those -- some of the rallies were horrible. I mean, they called Rabin as a Nazi collaborator. They called Rabin -- especially the extreme right wing in Israeli, they basically -- I mean, Yigal Amir, the assassin, is in jail.

But I think much of the perpetrators, of the people who sent him, the extreme right wing rabbis, those politicians who were there also, are as much as blame as the one that pulled the trigger. He was his messenger.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about that, because you do talk in the film about the Jewish underground, as you call them, and about a 1980 plot to blow up the Dome of the Rock, the Muslim shrine there.

MOREH: One of the third holy places in the world.

AMANPOUR: Let us show this clip.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

(From captions): They prepared the bombs. They used a very sensitive type of explosive, Semtex. It was planned by Menachem Livni, who was a demolitions genius. The charges would be placed so that the entire force of the explosion would be directed at the support structure. This would result in the collapse of the Dome.

(Speaking foreign language).


AMANPOUR: So that plot, as the Shin Bet chiefs say, could have been apocalyptic for Israel.

What did that signify? And also they were then released, right? They were pardoned by the prime minister.

MOREH: Yes, absolutely. What does it signify? That they are willing to risk everything in order to achieve the religious goals. And this is what I think, when those extreme right-wing fanatics come to speak, you cannot argue with them. You cannot reason with them, because they have God's order in front of them. And they value land much more than life.

And this is the major problem in Israel. Those people, those extreme right-wing leaders and people in Israel are the biggest threat to the existence of the state of Israel because every time that you see there is a shift towards movement, slowly towards peace, they are -- they come inside and they create the greatest havoc.

I mean, you know that we have now the same thing in the occupied territories, those tag price who are going and burning mosques, burning Quran, in order just to do exactly that, to stop the move towards peace.

AMANPOUR: Obviously there has been an incredible amount of Palestinian terrorism as well, and that has definitely affected the debate within Israel, the suicide bombings that were towards the end of the '90s, the killing of the so-called engineer, one of the heads of the Hamas cell, Yahya Ayyash.

I want to play a little bit of a clip about so-called targeted assassinations as spoken by the Shin Bet leaders and get you to react to that. Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): People expect a decision, and by decision they usually mean "to act". That's a decision. "Don't do it" seems easier, but it's often harder. Sometimes it's a super-clean operation. No one was hurt except the terrorists.

Even then, later, life stops, at night, in the day, when you're shaving. We all have our moments. On vacation...

You say, "OK. I made a decision. And X number of people were killed. They were definitely about to launch a big attack." No one near them was hurt. It was as sterile as possible. Yet you still say, "There's something unnatural about it."

What's unnatural is the power you have to take three people, terrorists, and take their lives in an instant.


AMANPOUR: So on the one hand, here you have them talking about something that preoccupies the world right now. You see drone attacks by the United States against Al Qaeda and other such elements in Afghanistan, Yemen, elsewhere.

Here, it has also been very, very sensitive. I thought Yuval Diskin said something quite interesting, that you can never stop thinking about those decisions that you make.

MOREH: Yes. It's a human dilemma. I mean, the dilemma that he raises there is a human dilemma. How do you live with yourself and you know that there is collateral damage? I think the war of the 21st century is a war which needs to fight intelligent war, intelligence war, which needs to find the needle in the haystack, in the form of a terrorist.

And the -- where the intelligence agencies are working all around the world in order to find that, the moral issues that are raised because of that, the moral issues of innocent bystander that are being killed by these techniques are raised over and over again and again. And I think that it's right. Israel has dealt with that all the time, five, seven, 10 years ago, with the strategy of targeted assassination.

And at the end of the day, it comes to the basic questions, strategy towards tactics, because killing a terrorist is a tactic, strategically. Where do you want to take that? I mean, it's also relevant to America.

You can kill all the terrorists in the world. You can target, assassinate all the terrorists in Afghanistan. You kill Osama bin Laden, but where do you want to take the conflict at the end of the day? What is your strategy to go out from that? And I think that this is the basic question everywhere.

AMANPOUR: So, in other words, the tactic is to pacify and stop the terrorism and the strategy is try to make a political resolution.

MOREH: Absolutely. This is -- also in the movie, Carmi Gillon says, you know, you need to create a better political solution. This is the aim of victory. What is victory? When he asks the question, what is victory, does someone answer that? I mean, he says that. The Israeli have won every war almost.

But strategically, do we feel better, safer now? I don't think so. I think that the Israeli public is much more intimidated now by all those threats, which basically Netanyahu is very well doing, is now Iran nuclear reactor, the Palestinian wants to kill us, everybody wants to kill us. But at the end of the day, what is your solution?

I mean, you always talk about threats, Netanyahu. What is the solution? Where do you want to take? Is there a hope? If there is no hope, say that. Say that eloquently and say it for the Israeli people there is no hope. You know, you are going to live all your life fighting for the survival. If this is the case, say that.

But you're not saying that. You're saying all the time, be aware; be aware there's a threat, there's a threat. I don't think that this is what the leadership should do.

AMANPOUR: Do you know whether the prime minister has seen this film, Benjamin Netanyahu?

MOREH: I don't think that he saw the film. And from what I heard, there was an article that he said that -- or his spokesmen said that he's not going to watch the film. I think it stays much more about his personality rather than about the film.

I think that the fact that the prime minister of Israel is not willing to watch a film with six former heads of Shin Bet, are speaking and giving -- conveying a message to the Israeli public, to him and to the world, I think it just speaks about his personality, not about them, that he doesn't want to see the film.


AMANPOUR: And when we return, you know how your family can say things that you would never let an outsider say? Well, the same goes for "The Gatekeepers," a movie that could only have been made by an Israeli. And we'll have more with Dror Moreh in a moment. But first, a quick look at another site in Israel.

While the dove of peace has yet to be sighted, another bird has returned. Take a look at this picture. It almost looks like a painting of a cloud. But that is a flock of starlings, once numbering in the tens millions, they used to be a common sight in Israel.

But for reasons that scientists can't explain, their numbers have dwindled. And for whatever reason, the starlings are returning -- a hopeful sign, perhaps, in a country in danger of losing all hope for peace. We'll be right back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program and continuing my conversation with "The Gatekeepers" director, Dror Moreh. The documentary opened in Israel three weeks ago, and it'll be released later this week here in the United States.

The director says he hopes to hold up a mirror so that Israelis can look at where their country is headed.


AMANPOUR: One of the Shin Bet leaders said, you know, what we're doing in the occupied territories reminds me of what the Germans did when they were occupying countries in Europe, yes, the Wehrmacht, exactly.

Now he said, obviously, not the Holocaust; I'm not comparing that. But the occupation.

For me, as a non-Israeli, a non-Jew, I was shocked. I thought that was really aggressive thing to say.

MOREH: Me, too. When I -- when I heard that, I was also shocked. But bear in mind that Avraham Shalom -- just a small detail -- was born in Vienna, was, as a young -- he didn't know that he was a Jew. And at the Kristallnacht, he was forced by his mother to go to the school; he was beaten to death almost by his classmates.

And he said, "I experienced first-hand what it means to be under a racist regime, under the fear that, as a Jew, you are constantly looked out as less than a dog."

And when he said that, you know, he experienced that first-hand. It's not something that came out of the blue.

So I said to myself, I have to put it in, because he understands what he speaks.

And also we have to create -- as you said, you were shocked -- I think that in the -- in the current political arena in Israel, you have to create something which will stir the people up, with -- you know what I mean, I mean, so much noise. I mean, you have to make a clear point in order to stir the people up. And I think that's why he said that, why that's why he said that.

AMANPOUR: I think I was also convinced, having watched that particular comment, and having watched the whole film, that it can only be Israelis who say this.

MOREH: Yes, absolutely.

AMANPOUR: They can't be people from the outside.

MOREH: No, it cannot be.

It cannot be, because only Israelis, only Jews can say those kind of words. On any person like him, was, you know, he was the head of the defense establishment in Israel. He was the one that headed the operation to kidnap Eichmann from Argentina to Israel. So he understands what --


AMANPOUR: He's been there.

MOREH: -- he's been there. He was the one that kidnapped him, put him in the car and brought him to justice in Israel. So he understands. If there is someone who understands those people -- and only then can have the justification to speak as they spoke in that film, in the film. AMANPOUR: There have been critics who say, well, this is all cherry picking. You've just taken the bits that you want. It's all a bunch of leftist propaganda. And in your film, one of the Shin Bet chiefs, Yaakov Peri, says -- and I'm paraphrasing -- after all that you've done and all that you've seen, when you step out of the job, maybe you end up a bit of a leftist.

MOREH: As I said, they are all pragmatists. I mean, that I -- to say the word that I cherry picked whatever they want, this is the six heads of Shin Bet, the six heads of the Secret Service of Israel, saying in one and clear voice, as I said, enough of the occupation. You cannot argue with that.

I mean, they were not, you know, going in the street, protesting against the occupation. They were basically dealing all the time with terrorists, targeted assassination, all of that. So if they are saying, you'd better listen; this is what I'm saying. They are not -- it was not cherry picked. They -- I stand behind every word that they say -- and they say that as well.

You know, a lot of people asked me, did they see the film? Of course, they saw the film. They came and they saw the film and two months ago, three months ago, I was (inaudible) to the elections in America. And every ad that you saw on the television, "My name is Barack Obama and I approved this ad."

So I say very clearly and loudly, they said we are the gatekeeper; we are the head of the Shin Bet and we stand behind that film, if anybody wonders.

AMANPOUR: I was stunned when Yuval Diskin, who's the most recent former head, he said about the Palestinians and about terrorism and terrorists, "A Palestinian, he looks at you and says, 'You're a terrorist, too.' One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."

That was kind of interesting.

MOREH: Very interesting. And you know, the story that he told that about was that he, at the beginning of the peace process, pre-Oslo, he had to go to negotiate with the Palestinian leadership and he had to meet one of the perpetrators of the Munich massacres in the Olympic Games in 1972.

And he basically reflected that on the first meeting that he had to do with that person, who was one of the instigator of this massacre.

AMANPOUR: So he had to negotiate with a terrorist?

MOREH: With a terrorist, with one that was responsible for the massacre in the Munich Olympic Games of the Israeli delegation.

And for him, it was horrible. I mean, when I saw his face, when he spoke about that, he said, "I couldn't stand myself, sitting that room in the -- with the same person."

But at the end of the day, you understand that peace you do with your worst enemies. You don't do peace with your neighbors, with your friends. You're doing with your worst enemies. And he basically said that in order -- if there was a lot of ice in the room -- and the story that he told that in order to break the ice, he'll stop -- quit smoking. He offered a cigarette to that person.

And then, you know, started a kind of a human reaction between them. And that was the first freeze, you know, kind of melting the freezing in the room. And they started to speak about --

AMANPOUR: And there was a peace accord.

MOREH: Yes, which was ruined by the assassination of Rabin, regrettably.

AMANPOUR: Dror Moreh, a very powerful film. Thank you for joining me.

MOREH: Thank you for being here. I really appreciate that.


AMANPOUR: And now imagine an Israeli leader who listened to "The Gatekeepers" and changed his mind about settlements. Actually, we don't have to imagine it. It really happened. And we'll have that story when we return.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, before he made "The Gatekeepers," my guest, Dror Moreh, made a documentary about Ariel Sharon, Israel's pugnacious former prime minister and the godfather of the Israeli settlements on the West Bank and in Gaza.

Seven years ago, Sharon suffered a stroke that left him in a coma. Many gave him up for dead. But today, doctors in Israel said that tests, which monitor his brain waves, show him responding to pictures of his family and a recording of his son's voice with what they call "significant brain activity."

Back at the height of his powers in 2003, Sharon was warned by four former heads of Shin Bet, four of the six men featured in "The Gatekeepers", that those settlements in the occupied territories put Israel's security, its very democracy, at risk. Two years later, Sharon ended the Israeli occupation of Gaza and dismantled four remote settlements on the West Bank.

We don't know how far he might have gone. And doctors caution that today's results don't prove that he can hear or understand. But they are signs of life. If only we could say the same for the peace process. Perhaps "The Gatekeepers" have taken the first step.

That's it for tonight's program. Meantime, you can always follow us at our website, Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.