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
'Banksy Does New York' Film - 2014

Art Somebody is going around telling people he's Banksy - but it isn't the street artist

Arts and Entertainment
Woody Allen and Placido Domingo will work together on Puccini's Schicchi

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
The sixteen celebrities taking part in The Jump 2015

TV

Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge has announced his departure from Blink-182

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Latest stories from i100
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.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore