The six men’s tenures span the years 1980 to 2011. They served under eight different prime ministers and through a succession of uprisings by Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza, a turn-your-face-away series of terrorist attacks against civilian targets — the bombing of city buses, etc. — after which certain niceties of the law were not followed. After a 1984 bus bombing, two captured terrorists were almost beaten to death by the army — and the job was finished on the orders of the Shin Bet’s Avraham Shalom:
“So I said, ‘Hit them again and finish it.’ ”
The order was followed.
“I think he took a rock and smashed their heads in.”
Some of the other Shin Bet chiefs recount James Bond-type exploits — an exploding cellphone, for instance — and rough interrogations that may or may not amount to torture; it’s not clear. But what is clear is that some of these former spy chiefs view right-wing Jewish militancy as more perilous to Israel than the restive and seething Palestinians on the West Bank. It was a Jew, after all, who killed the revered Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 because that prime minister was determined to make peace. This was, they all concede, an event that changed history.
The film is a tough indictment of Israeli policy, particularly the continued occupation of the West Bank and the expansion of Jewish settlements there. All of the former officials are traditional Israeli secularists, and they show a commendable loathing for the religious militants that Israeli governments continuously pandered to. Above all, though, they are critical of government after government that lacks a strategy to somehow withdraw from the West Bank and instead relies on oppression. “You can’t make peace using military means,” says Ami Ayalon, head of the Shin Bet from 1996 to 2000 and a former navy commando.
Ayalon is the cliched Israeli. He is the product of the kibbutz movement, a rock-hard physical specimen with more derring-do under his belt than an entire SEAL team. He had a belief, a secular one, and it was in the wisdom and courage of Israel’s leaders. As he talks, the camera pans a wall of the prime minister’s outer office, where the requisite photos of them all hang. Ayalon recounts what he found when he finally had the stature to get to see that office . . . nothing: