A fascinating tale of friendship and betrayal, Nadav Schulman’s documentary The Green Prince reminds us of the importance of placing ethics over politics.
The Spy Who Loved Me by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Following The Champagne Spy and In The Darkroom about Margaret Kopp, the wife of Carlos the Jackal, Israeli-born director Nadav Schirman seems to be cornering the market in spy documentaries, shining a light on the hidden truths, betrayals and lies told in the backrooms of espionage. And with The Green Prince it’s a dramatic uncovering of the cat-and-mouse relationship between Palestinian spy Mosab Hassan Yousef and the Israeli secret service agent Gonen Ben Yitzhak. It’s pieced together out of dramatic point-of-view sequences and moodily staged interviews, but it’s through the power and charisma of its talking heads that The Green Prince really shines – creating a life-long friendship across the separation barrier.
After the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, attempts at peace between Israel and Palestine falter and after the arrest, imprisonment and re-arrest of Hamas leader and founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef, his son and heir-apparent Mosab decides to join the fight and buy some weaponry. Promptly arrested by Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service, the “Green Prince” deceitfully agrees to become an informer, but after witnessing torture at the hands of Hamas militants in prison, Mosab decides to keep his promise after all, following his own moral compass and embarking on a shameful collaboration with Israel and his handler Gonen that lasts a decade, saves countless lives and betrays his father, family and country.
The jewel in Shin Bet’s crown of recruited informants, the “Green Prince” is named after the green flag of Hamas and his direct line to the leadership through his father. Though while in much of the archive footage, Mossab looks rather like an ordinary dolt, and not exactly a beguiling secret agent, buffed up, with a corrected jaw and now living in America, this spy has come in from the cold. But nevertheless, he’s still persona non grata on all sides, having outed himself to the American press in his biography Son Of Hamas, denounced by his family, sentenced to death by Hamas and discarded by – even if freed from his devil’s pact with – Shin Bet. But within inches of being deported from the States (who interpreted his book as working for Hamas rather than against it), it was up to his Israeli handler Gonen to step in and step up, testifying to what Mosab did, so that he might receive asylum.
Beyond the story of Israel and Palestine, Nadav Schirman also weaves a few subtle threads – not only of one man who steps out of the shadow of his family and national cause to forge his own path, but also of the depth of relationship between handler and spy, galvanised in truths and trust. While lies became a way of life for Mosab, betraying the secrets of those close to him or spending time in prison to convince militants back home of his innocence, he becomes distanced from everyone – except for almost absurd moments of family closeness, such as the scene Mosab describes when he cooks with his father hours before the arrest he knows is going to happen. And although Gonen and Mosab are worlds apart, their lives become so deeply intertwined that a very human responsibility for each other emerges – a fraternity that, like their attempts to save lives rather than destroy them, puts Middle Eastern politics to shame.
An oblique look at the Arab-Israeli conflict, The Green Prince sees the world through one man’s eyes. And while the politics are personal rather than general, Schulman does seem to whitewash the Israeli secret service into a supportive and understanding family for waifs and strays, at odds with the bombings and torture of the Shin Bet in Dror Moreh’s The Gatekeepers. It’s a slick and gripping production however, resting entirely on the twin pillars of Mosab and Gonen’s interviews. And while The Green Prince isn’t investigative enough to alter the way we view the world, their testimonies sparkle with enough glimmering reflections on truth, betrayal and decently lived lives to change the way we see ourselves.
The Green Prince is released on 12th December 2014 in the UK