I love independent theaters. I also love films that may or may not get press or bring filmmakers lots of money, but present a message that makes you think and stirs up conversation long after the credits roll.
For me, one such film that I watched recently is the documentary, “The Gatekeepers.”
While being nominated for an Oscar, winning “The Cinema for Peace” honor at the Berlin International Film Festival and getting rave reviews from film critics, the film had escaped my notice until I was browsing the options for a movie night.
I read the description – “a documentary featuring interviews with all surviving former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency whose activities and membership are closely held state secrets” – and was immediately intrigued.
Maybe this sounds like a nerdy way to spend a night out, but, in actuality, my interest was piqued from the fact I spent 10 days in Israel alongside a Muslim imam, a Jewish rabbi and an evangelical Christian pastor in 2011.
It was a trip that brought my mind and spirit to the center of the crisis of the Middle East in ways that don’t leave your heart when you return home.
We called our trip a “delegation of peace,” and though it is usually every pastor’s dream to take a tour to the Holy Land at some juncture in his or her ministry, this was not your normal journey to the Holy Land.
We traveled together intentionally to explore the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis in the eyes of one another.
We wanted to explore the sights important to each of our religious traditions, as children of Abraham, with an openness to learn without our natural biases.
We sought to meet with peacemakers on the ground from both sides, and we wanted our congregations and places of worship to grow in friendship with one another when we returned home.
Throughout the journey, I came to believe there is no better way to see Israel and the Palestinian territories than with a rabbi and imam by your side.
The Holy Land is about more than the life and work of Jesus, even though many Christians bulldoze their way into the country in big tour buses.
It’s the center of history for our friends in the Jewish and Islamic tradition as well, and this should be respected and honored.
Today, I can’t imagine going back to Israel any other way or having a conversation about the region without considering the perspectives of both Israel and their Palestinian neighbors.
I loved that “The Gatekeepers” took me back to this place of learning and reflection on the complexity of history, politics and ideology that shapes the current state of affairs in Israel today.
I also appreciated that this documentary showed the humanity – both the good and not so good – of the Shin Bet, Israel’s security agency.
Sometimes the best possible decisions were made given the circumstances, yet, sadly, innocent people died anyway. Other times, poor choices were made that cost hundreds their lives and livelihood.
Sometimes top Shin Bet officials wept for the lives lost and wished for a better way of relationships between neighbors, even though they were (and are) often labeled the “bad guys.”
I appreciated the commentary on religious leadership within the region – highlighting the crucial role such leaders play in persuading the hearts and minds of people, for good or evil.
I also respected the fact that the film ended without a political message advocating for or against Palestinian statehood and a new Middle East peace agreement, but rather with the statement that peace will come through friendship.
The message I expected was advocacy for greater military occupation or even different political leaders.
The unexpected message I received was simply friendship – peace through friendship.
I would encourage you to go out and see “The Gatekeepers” with a friend. You’ll be glad you did.
Elizabeth Evans Hagan is a freelance writer and minister dividing her time between Arlington, Va., and Oklahoma City. She regularly blogs about the art of pastoring at Preacher on the Plaza, where a version of this review first appeared.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violent content including disturbing images.
Director: Dror Moreh
Producer: Philippa Kowarsky
Cast: Ami Ayalon; Avi Ditcher; Avraham Shalom; Carmi Gillon; Yaakov Peri; Yuval Diskin.
The movie’s website is here.
Elizabeth Hagan is senior minister of The Palisades Community Church in Washington, D.C. Other hats she wears are as a preacher, author and executive director of Our Courageous Kids, a foundation dedicated to orphan care.