Film Review: THE GREEN PRINCE, DIR. NADAV SCHIRMAN (2014)
This film is intense, timely and provocative. For me it turned everything I thought I knew on its head. It is based on the book Son of Hamas, written by Mosab Hassan Yousef in 2007 whose father, Sheihk Hassan Yousef was a co-founder and leader of Hamas. He described it as the “family business” and in the same way that Mafia families grow accustomed to the dangers of their chosen careers - he saw his father repeatedly incarcerated. This instilled in him a great antipathy toward the Israelis as the arch enemy of all that he held dear. So what led to his becoming a spy for the Israeli secret service between 1997 and 2007? The story is extraordinary. By the time he was 16 years old he was old enough to take action. It was an ill-conceived action without a real plan. He snuck over the border and brought back weapons and, unsurprisingly, had been under surveillance by the Israeli secret service Shin Bet, and was summarily arrested. It was while he was in prison that the first attempts to recruit him to spy for Shin Bet began. Initially that was met with disbelief on his part. Eventually, he naively decided to say yes to simply remove the pressure -intending to do nothing. Ironically, it was when he was put in the section with the other Hamas prisoners that he became radicalized in the opposite direction. He saw up close and personal how vicious and cruel the Hamas fighters were even with each other. He realized that there was no morality or humanity animating their actions. He recognized clearly that all the rhetoric was false and that their whole premise was based on lies.
His recruiter and handler Gonen Ben Yitzhak, is initially an unemotional professional operative. Although he acknowledges that the moment a person is recruited is the end of their life as they know it. It was a huge feather in his cap to get this young man, the heir-apparent to leadership of Hamas to risk everything to do what he fervently believed was the right thing. What emerges through interviews with Gonen interspersed with the words of Mosab is a very human evolution of a very trusting relationship. Gonan is superb at maintaining the delicate mindset of a spy who is also a traitor. His code name Green Prince refers to the color of the flag of Hamas and his heritage.
Mosab is an extraordinarily clear and focused young man who has a moral compas unusual for one of his age and raised in such a divisive time and place. He maintains his humanity and refuses to do things which he does not believe in at great risk to himself. As as result he influences Gonen. He is not seduced by blind ideology - a rare thing in his situation. He refuses to take any harmful actions on behalf of Hamas even to protect his cover as one of them. He even goes so far as to have his father put in prison when he hears of a plot to kill him.
After ten years of intense duplicity, he is beginning to come unravelled and begs to be released from duty. Needless to say, Shin Bet does not want to lose him. Gonen, takes the initiative to arrange a way out for him by arranging a trip to the US for jaw surgery. Mosab begins a new life in San Diego and adopts Christianity. When his book is published he is widely celebrated in the US and widely denounced in his own country. His family disowns him as do his US friends. He applies for asylum and is turned down on account of his having had association with Hamas. At this point, Gonen who has been taken off duty due to all of the revelations comes to his aid and flies to the US to testify on his behalf. This saves Mosab from being deported and surely killed. He is ultimately able to become an American citizen.
Mosab speaking his own words looking straight into the camera in an interview format is so totally convincing and compelling that when he almost tears up toward the end, you feel profoundly the truth of the words. That he lives a solitary life in the US and has to move frequently to protect himself from threats is so diappointing and unjust and makes me ashamed of my country. I believe he shoud be embraced by America as a whole and Jews in particular. Maybe this film will help to rectify that situation.
Review by Belle McIntyre