The Gatekeepers: A Zero Dark Thirty, with added morals

A new film gets up close with six ex-heads of Israel's Shin Bet

Long before its December release in his native Israel, Dror Moreh's documentary The Gatekeepers was one of the most hotly debated movies in years. "The number of articles about the film was unprecedented", says Moreh. Given the incendiary nature of his film, he can hardly have been surprised by the reaction. Interviewing all six living former heads of Israel's Shin Bet counterterrorism agency, The Gatekeepers is a startling study of how Israeli state-sanctioned violence has derailed the peace process. Fuelled by remarkably frank confessions from these expert tacticians, not least regarding their involvement in selective terrorist assassinations, it makes for grim, if compelling, viewing.

Even more impressive has been the film's American performance. After wowing critics at the Toronto and Sundance festivals, the film has taken $1.6m; recently expanding on to 80 screens, it's a remarkable run for a niche documentary about Israeli politics. As for the school of thought that Americans don't go to see subtitled films, "The Gatekeepers proved that wrong," notes Moreh.

Suddenly regarded as a Hollywood hot prospect, the only surprise was that Moreh, 51, lost out on the Best Documentary Oscar (to the less controversial Searching for Sugar Man). He can't help but smile when he reflects on that night. "It was amazing. Just the fact that you meet all your idols. Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Ben Affleck… all of them saw the film. It speaks about dilemmas that America deals with now, very vigorously – targeted assassination, drone attacks, torturing people in order to get intel, the war of the 21st century – how is it working, is it not working? And who can speak about it more than the heads of the Israeli secret service?"

He even met Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, the director and writer of Zero Dark Thirty. "Kathryn Bigelow said, 'I was blown away completely by your movie. Completely.'" For his part Moreh remains critical of their work. "Zero Dark Thirty doesn't touch issues about morality. It's almost a journalistic, documentary description of what happened. Does it ask itself the question about the morality of water-boarding people? If Mark Boal had taken morality into consideration it would've created a different kind of potency."

The Gatekeepers is unflinching in its examination of the morality of counterterrorism – not least when Moreh confronts Avraham Shalom. The much-feared head of Shin Bet from 1980-86, he became infamous after he ordered the execution of two terrorists captured after hijacking a bus between Tel Aviv and Ashkelon. "With terrorists there are no morals," he says, in the face of Moreh's questioning. "In the war against terror, forget about morality."

Raised in Jerusalem – his mother is from Palestine, his father originally from Iraq – Moreh was "shocked" to learn how many missed opportunities there were by Israelis to broker peace. "The actual meaning of that is that people die. Many Israelis and Palestinians could've lived happily. Lives have been lost and life will be lost... because the politicians from both sides didn't work hard enough to reach a solution."

Moreh is now returning to Tel Aviv to complete a book and a five-part television series that will expand on the The Gatekeepers. And he has his eye on Hollywood. "I got a lot of offers to work on a fiction film," he says. Would he consider using one of the anecdotes from the documentary as the basis for a script? "I will do something exactly like that," he says. He cites one of the more pulsating sequences in the film – an account of an 18-month Shin Bet operation to bring down the chief bombmaker of Hamas, Yahya Ayyash. Known as the Engineer, he was killed in 1996 by a mobile phone rigged with explosives. "Believe me, I can do a Steven Spielberg movie about that case," he says.

'The Gatekeepers' opens on Friday

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments