By Daniel Nelson

The Green Prince

The Green Prince

Image by The Green Prince

Amazingly, it’s a true story – though it’s hard to credit when you are watching it.

The Green Prince was the code name for Mosab Hassa Yousef, the son of a senior Hamas official, Sheikh Hassan. The youth was, unsurprisingly, anti-Zionist. But when he lands in prison, he doesn’t like what he sees. First surprise: it’s not the Israeli jailors he reacts against, but his fellow prisoners and their methods.

Although the documentary is based on Mosab Hassa Yousef’s own book, it doesn’t really explain why he was “turned” so easily by Shin Bet secret service agent Gonen bin Yitzhak (“Recruiting is an art”). The suggestion is that it stems from his rape in a Hamas camp and the betrayal and anger he felt over the fact that because of the “shame” – which of course should not have been his but his attacker’s – he felt unable to tell his family or Hamas officials: “More painful than being raped is the shame of being raped”. He also says he was shocked to see Hamas torturing people.

It’s an interesting psychological idea but the real motives seem hidden, not least because, interviewed years later, The Green Prince comes across as a fully-formed liberal Westerner (and who later, in the US, attends Bible study classes).

There’s more going on here than meets the eye of the camera, as is further suggested by the speed with which Yatzhak apparently recognised Mosab Hassa Yousef’s vulnerability and potential – an aspect that also may be partly the result of hindsight and reflection. Both these men know how to dissemble, and both enjoy doing so. There’s no way of knowing whether they continue to dissemble in their apparent truth-telling accounts. There’s also no way of confirming the suspicion that the Green Prince’s father sensed his son was colluding with the enemy but chose not to see (“It’s like a husband who knows his wife is cheating but he doesn’t want to look at it.”).

The film is constructed from face-to-face intercut interviews with the two men, supplemented with newsreels shots and reconstructions.

It’s a simple but effective format. In case you don’t know or have forgotten the story of the two men’s relationship, which stretched over a decade, and how it played out, I won’t give it away. But there are many fascinating dilemmas (such as Israel’s jailing of Mosab Hassa Yousef to avert suspicion of his complicity when his father is arrested), and some extraordinary plot twists – including the dismissal of Gonen bin Yitzhak (“The first day handling him was the first day of the end of my career”),  and… well, see for yourself.

Although it doesn’t answer all the questions, it’s gripping – and extraordinary.

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