The German-Israeli-UK production The Green Prince is one of those documentaries that begs the question: Would it have been better as a magazine article? Writer-director Nadav Schirman’s informative but anticlimactic doc tells the story of Mosab Hassan Yousef, a West Bank resident who committed the most shameful act a Palestinian Muslim can imagine, collaborating with Israel to betray his people.
In his youth Mosab idolized his father, Hassan Yousef, an Islamist firebrand imprisoned for his activities with Hamas during the days of the First Palestinian Intifada. Mosab followed his father into Hamas (after the latter’s release) and was also thrown into an Israeli prison, but when he witnessed Hamas’ jail-cell torture of suspected traitors (none of whom, he later learned, were actually guilty) he decided to go over to the other side and provide information to the people he had been trained all his life to hate. To do so was a double dose of death sentence and dishonor, but the young man had evidently seen enough. Because of Mosab’s insider status as his father’s adjutant, Israel’s Shin Bet security agency code-named him the Green Prince. Both Mosab and his Shin Bet handler, Gonen Ben Yitzhak, appear on camera as talking heads.
In much the same way as investigative documentarians Errol Morris and Alex Gibney wear down their subjects with prolonged questioning, filmmaker Schirman (In the Dark Room) gets both Mosab and Gonen to reveal telling personal details about their treacherous game of wits. Mosab confesses he was raped as a boy by a family friend but never told anyone, fearing eternal banishment and shame — which of course is what he’s dealing with now for quite another reason (Mosab lives in the US and reportedly moves often for security reasons).
The calm, sanguine Gonen offers a few peeks into one of the world’s most-feared state-terrorism orgs. We learn how to identify, approach, and ultimately train intelligence assets using psychology. The valuable Mosab lived up to his code name. He was important to both sides, he knew it, and indeed behaved like a prince. “He loved it. He was addicted to the action,” gloats Gonen. All the while Shin Bet used tricks and disinformation, including “targeting” Mosab in order to establish his credibility. Today, Mosab thinks he saved innocent lives by thwarting the operations of “cowards, acting in the name of courage.” But the truth, as always in that corner of the world, may be more complicated.