Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Nadav Schirman.
We’ve recently seen a couple of tense Israeli thrillers about a Palestinian youth forced to spy for Mossad and the dangerous situation he is placed in because of this, namely Omar and Bethlehem. And now we get this documentary from veteran filmmaker Nadav Schirman which tells the real life story that inspired those fictional dramas. And The Green Prince unfolds with all the sweaty palmed tension of a fictional thriller as its two central characters operate in a world of grey and shadows where nothing is ever clear cut or black and white.
The Green Prince tells the story of how veteran Israeli spymaster Gonen Ben Yitzhak managed to recruit Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of a top Hamas leader and got him to spy on the organisation for nearly a decade. It was a coup that ultimately cost Gonen his job though as he grew too close and friendly with Yousef, whose code name was “the Green Prince”.
In 1995, following the assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister, tensions increased between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas organisation, and Israeli security service Shin Bet increased its operations aimed at preventing further terrorist attacks. The teenaged Yousef was originally arrested for smuggling guns, and sent to prison. But when Yousef professed his shock at Hamas’ terror tactics and use of suicide bombers it appeared he was more sympathetic. Gonen was able to convince him to spy on Hamas to help try and break the cycle of violence.
But Yousef lived a dangerous life, having to lie to his family and friends, and walk a dangerous tightrope, always wondering if he would be exposed. But when Gonen was replaced, Yousef found it difficult to work with his new handler and wanted out. He managed to immigrate to the States, where he was living in San Diego. There was a price on his head. But when the US Department of Homeland Security wanted to deport Yousef because of his terrorist links, Gonen travelled to America to support him.
This is the story of how two men from opposing sides of a long standing conflict became friends and trusted allies, and it holds out a cautiously positive hope that the volatile situation in the Middle East could possibly be resolved if both sides could talk rather than throw bombs and continue to foster hatred.
Schirman has also drawn upon plenty of surveillance footage, newsreel footage and archival footage also to tell this real life story of deceit, sacrifice, betrayal and intrigue. There are extensive interviews with both Yousef, who gives some personal insights into his life and how he felt shame during these tense times, and Gonen, who gives some insights into the whole recruitment process and reveals some details of the intelligence gathering operations. He also talks about the high personal cost of his involvement with Yousef. Both men were trying to do the right thing, but found themselves at odds with their respective organisations who were happy enough to see the conflict wage on. The information unfolds in chronological order, which makes it easy to follow.
Veteran documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, etc) is an obvious influence on both Schirman here and the look and feel of the film, as the documentary offers up a mix of lengthy talking head interviews and dramatic reenactments. Schirman uses the same technique as Morris for interrogating his subjects and getting them to be quite candid for the camera. The wealth of material has been carefully edited together by Joelle Alexis (A Film Unfinished, etc) and Sanjeev Hathiramani, but some of the material becomes a little repetitive and visually is quite bland.
Based on Yousef’s own memoir Son Of Hamas, The Green Prince once again shows that sometimes truth and real life stories can be just as dramatic and gripping as fiction.