Saturday, April 20, 2013

Israeli spy documentary exposes cruel heart of the occupation

Apocalyptic warnings that Israel must be saved from itself have become almost commonplace in discourse concerning the future of the Middle East.

Twenty years after the signing of the Oslo peace accords, Israel's occupation has reached levels of entrenchment previously unimaginable. This bitter reality has unfolded as Israelis significantly cut back their direct contact with Palestinians, in large part a result of the work of the Palestinian Authority and the severing of Gaza from the West Bank.

Before the Oslo years, Israel had to administer multiple aspects of Palestinian life directly and large segments of the Israeli population knew - through experience - the burdens of occupation.

Today, that is not the case. With the help of the Palestinian Authority, separation barriers and advancements in military technology, Israelis now have the ability to enjoy the fruits of occupation, whether in cheap housing in Israeli settlements or the mining of raw materials in the West Bank, without the need to see what controlling a people looks like on the ground. Recent protests over the cost of living in Tel Aviv, which made no mention of the occupation despite the rallying cry of social justice, drive home this point.

The foundations in place for this continued status quo don't appear to be changing anytime soon. Israel has invested more resources, both intellectual and economic, into controlling the Palestinians than into any other project in the country's history.

With continued American backing and a potential source of cash from recently found natural gas deposits, Israel is poised to refine its web of control over Palestinian life, while Israelis attempt to live a normal life free from the moral consequences of controlling another people.

Yet the majority of Israelis would be shocked to read these sentiments. If recent Israeli election results are any barometer, most would argue that, while Israel finds itself in a unique security situation, it is not really that different from most European countries. People want to pursue happiness and economic stability instead of dealing with the pesky occupation.

Perhaps it is this bleak contour of Israeli society that spurred an Israeli director, Dror Moreh, to make The Gatekeepers, an acclaimed new documentary about Israel's Shin Bet security agency.

While space for honest discussion about the country's policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians continues to shrink, there remains a faction of Israelis who hold on to the belief that democratic ideals and ethnocracy can exist symbiotically between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. For these individuals, Oslo's promise of two states for two peoples was a defining one, despite its impossibility. This coterie of liberals warn vociferously that Israel can't remain on its course. As The Gatekeepers demonstrates, members of this group reached the highest echelons of Israel's security establishment.

One of three Israeli intelligence gathering agencies, the Shin Bet is one of the only state institutions that answers solely to the prime minister's office and is not a part of Israel's Ministry of Defence.

Tasked primarily with handling security in the occupied Palestinian territories, the Shabak, as it is know by its Hebrew acronym, has come to be a cornerstone of Israel's occupation. Shin Bet intelligence gathering, which according to Israel's daily newspaper Haaretz occasionally includes torture, has sought to give Israel the ability to analyse, understand and ultimately dismantle every form of Palestinian resistance.

Moreh's film is a journey into this secretive organisation. Through interviews with six former directors of the Shin Bet, he unravels a complex matrix of Israeli control over Palestinians which seemingly has no driving end goal other than dominance. More