The Sorrow and the Pity

review gatekeepers

In a moment of almost chilling candor in the latter half of The Gatekeepers, Ami Ayalon invokes the concept of the “Banality of Evil,” perhaps without intending the full symbolic weight of such a reference. The former director of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, from 1996 to 2000 uses these words to explain how after enough time on the job, the killing of large numbers of people loses its psychological burden. Hannah Arendt meant something a bit different when she coined it in 1963 as a subtitle of her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Yet one cannot deny the potency of a director of Shin Bet using a term to describe his own organization that was originally used to explain the motivation of a Nazi convicted and hanged by Israel for crimes against humanity. Ayalon’s interpretation of Shin Bet’s history, however, is not the only one to emerge. Abraham Shalom, director of the agency from 1981 to 1986, muddies the waters by explaining that there was simply “no strategy, only tactics.” Shin Bet operated without needing to think about morality, he argues, because the focus was on counter-terrorism rather than a peace process with the Palestinians. The politicians, Prime Ministers in particular, were responsible for quandaries. He and his successors, on the other hand, should be blamed for their technical mistakes but not for the ethical problems inherent in many of their failures. Whether this is true, or simply a hollow rhetorical defense, […]

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published: 01.28.2015
published: 01.28.2015
published: 01.28.2015
published: 01.27.2015

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