This summer’s front page photographs from Gaza of masked Hamas gunmen executing accused collaborators with Israel gives The Green Prince urgent immediacy. This intimate first-person account and vivid reconstruction of the dangerous experiences of a Palestinian and his handler from Shin Bet, the Israel Security Agency, recounts the risks they took to reduce violence from 1996 to 2010. It’s frank about the still inherent roadblocks to peace.
Separately, the two men speak directly to the camera. They are charismatic tellers of a unique tale of their unusual partnership from deep within the kind of human intelligence gathering, with its fraught moral dilemmas, usually only seen in fiction. The illustrative visuals are mostly from the actual places they describe, suspensefully filmed as if through surveillance cameras (with one clip from actual security footage at a Ramallah mall).
Mosab Hassan Yousef, born in 1978, grew up as the oldest son (of eight children) in a devout Muslim household within a West Bank community whose goal, according to him, was to “kill Israelis.” His father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, was one of the seven founders of Hamas in 1986, and has served as its religious leader, with Mosab his closest aide. For all his heartfelt affection for them, Mosab is not nostalgic about a family that repressed feelings and prized silence, even about child abuse at the hands of a strict relative.
As a teenager, he was in and out of Israeli jails, including for trying to buy guns, which took on freighted significance in the occupied territory. But as brutal as his arrests and humiliating as his passage through Israeli law enforcement, he was more shocked by the brutality inside the prisons, where Hamas reigned. Only the respect for his family shielded Mosab from vicious and paranoid retaliations for the slightest perceptions of disloyalty. He was more horrified by Hamas’s torture and cruelty in a complicated pyramid of internecine revenge than the constant and merciless interrogation by Israelis. (His insights on Hamas add a chilling perspective to its current tactics inside and outside Gaza.)
Gonen Ben Yitzhak, a married father and psychology graduate, was assigned by the Shin Bet to convince the 20-year-old to work undercover for the Israelis. By then, Mosab was open to stopping more deaths, particularly to prevent his father’s. (The domestic intelligence agency’s past leaders were interviewed in Dror Moreh’s The Gatekeepers.) They each relish explaining the complicated machinations necessary to deliver information and to keep his cover going for many years. As the son of a Hamas insider, he was assigned the highly top secret code name “Green Prince,” while he only knew his contact as “Captain Loai.”
The spy thriller-esque derring do in preventing attacks is exciting, and the reenactments are at the same high level as the producers’ other work in James Marsh’s Man on Wire and Project Nim and Bart Layton’s The Imposter). What makes their very personal story different, though, is the in-depth look at the human anguish and stress from their commitment to a separate peace that no one else around them seemed to believe in anymore.
When Gonen is pushed off the case, Mosab feels uncomfortable and disrespected with the impersonal, domineering replacements. His memoir, Son of Hamas, goes into much more detail about the emotional and philosophical impact of his secret Christian conversion that led to his 2007 emigration to the United States. Its publication prompted his family to disown him. In an almost unbelievable, and suspenseful, epilogue, Mosab’s daring move to go public, first in a 2008 newspaper interview, inspired Gonen to courageously violate all of his own agency secrecy protocols to protect him, this time going up against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to prevent Mosab’s deportation as a Hamas terrorist.
Even at a time when peace in the Middle East still seems impossible, and the worst cruelties dominate the news, this documentary can help keep you hopeful about higher human nature.