PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Human Rights Watch Film Festival NY 2014: 'The Green Prince'

The process by which Shin Bet or US agencies or Hamas exploit and coerce, terrorize and rescue individuals, is The Green Prince's focus.

The Green Prince

Director: Nadav Schirman
Cast: Mosab Hassan Yousef, Gonen ben Itzhak
Rated: NR
Studio: Music Box Films
Year: 2014
US date: 2014-06-14 (Human Rights Watch Film Festival New York)

"My father told me, this is a dark organization, don't go there." Gonen Ben Itzhak sets up the moment when he decided to join Shin Bet, the Israeli secret security service, with his reaction to the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. "I was shocked like everybody else," he says, "I felt I needed to do something for my country." His belief that joining Shin Bet appeared to be that something initiates the unresolved, perhaps irresolvable, conundrum at the center of The Green Prince, screening at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival New York on 14 and 16 June.

That conundrum begins with definitions and expectations -- of self and nation, individual and community, morality, vengeance, and survival. As much as these terms might be applied to abstractions or ideals, they are also components of everyday life, of material choices and consequences, of lack of options and fears. The Palestinians were enemies, even the idea of Palestine was an existential threat to Israel, and so Itzhak embraced his responsibility. Still, Itzhak recalls his father's caution as he simultaneously recalls his decision: they are inextricable, 20 years later, when the darkness seems exponentially more obvious, more painful, and more unavoidable.

Itzhak's story is entwined with that of the Green Prince, notorious within Shin Bet and then beyond as well as the "Son of Hamas." Mosab Hassan Yousef and Itzhak here sit for separate interviews, in stark rooms and dim light, their faces sharply shadowed, their expressions seemingly open and direct. Each recounts his path -- or collision course -- to meet the other, when Mosab was recruited to work for the Israelis in 1997. "The first day handling him," says Itzhak, "was the first day of the end of my career."

That first day was occasioned by Mosab's arrest and imprisonment, while he was moving weapons in support of his father's cause in 1996. His father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, one of the founders of Hamas, seemed then to be a "god" to him, a "higher authority", admirable for his devotion to Islam and also for his brilliance in rousing others to fight. "Hamas was not just a movement to us," explains Mosab, "it was the family's business, it was our identity, it was everything."

This might sound a little like Itzhak's own impetus, his resolve to "do something for his country", and his rejection of his father's counsel. Mosab would also reject his father, in a more complex and less typical way; as he introduces his father, or the idea of his father, you see surveillance footage, streets on the West Bank ever under watch. "My father dedicated his entire life to Islam," Mosab remembers, determined to "solve the problem of humanity." That problem extended in particular ways to the son, who was raped as a child and unable to tell his parents about it: "The more painful thing than being raped was to have the reputation of being raped."

In this trauma, sitting for his interview now, for a film based in part on his autobiography, Son of Hamas: A Gripping Account of Terror, Betrayal, Political Intrigue, and Unthinkable Choices, Mosab locates a profound sense of shame, around which all that follows seems to revolve ("To collaborate with Israel is the most shameful you can do in my country," he asserts, as if these connections are rendered transparent). Whether his self-diagnosis is correct, the young Mosab's vulnerability was visible to an expert like Itzhak, who exploited it repeatedly and effectively.

When Mosab was imprisoned the first time, he was interrogated and was witness to torture (and he knew, as well, that his father, in and out of prison for years, endured such abuses). When he was recruited, Mosab reports, he meant to work it to his own advantage, to establish himself as a kind of double agent in his own mind, until he learned that Shin Bet were several steps ahead of him -- or at least they seemed to be.

As a handler, says Itzhak, "I would look at the psychological set and try to find their weak points." His genius was emotional, his insight political. He might see in his recruits a need for revenge, and he would find ways reframe risk so it might appear opportunity, and treachery so it might look righteous. "For most Palestinians, Shin Bet handler is the devil himself," he says, and he played his part perfectly, twisting situations and conversations so that Mosab was unable to tell who was lying and who might not be lying.

As much as Mosab -- his father's son, after all -- thought he understood whom he was dealing with and which reality was his, he found himself confounded and turned around. When he agreed to work with the Israelis, it was on condition that no one would be killed based on the incredibly detailed and valuable information he provided. In order to get that information, he had to play a terrorist, be on the Israelis' wanted list so that he could "hang out with the wanted."

Before he was immersed in this deceit for a decade, Mosab believed his mission was to kill Israelis; his handler convinced him that their efforts were better spent trying t save people, from themselves as much as from each other. This even as Shin Bet, of course, was doing its best to kill Palestinians. As you gaze on a map, punctuated by lights and blinking on monitors, Itzhak reminds you, "We can create a new reality."

Here you might pause to imagine the many ways this can be done, by false promises and shifting allegiances, and also by occupying neighborhoods, establishing settlements, convincing prisoners that their best interests are ours, that their culture and family are wrong, that aggression is courage and betrayal is necessary.

This making of this new reality, the process by which Shin Bet or US agencies or Hamas exploit and coerce, terrorize and rescue individuals, is The Green Prince's focus, the problem at its center. For it's not just that Shin Bet exploited Mosab (and Itzhak) or that Itzhak now feels responsible for the unmaking of his informant's life, but that such practices have only been refined and expanded since Mosab's experience. As much as he was left in an impossible place following the second intifada, unable to return home, unable to tell the truth, unable not to be perceived as a terrorist, Mosab was also a product of his beliefs, changing over time, shaped by those around him, apparently confirmed in any number of moments.

This is the film's most devastating observation, one that institutions and nations might still deny and rationalize. These two men's stories, the lies and truths, together form a terrible sort of thriller, framed here with smart edits between reenactments, archival footage, and interviews, as well as Max Richter's grimly riveting soundtrack (the documentary has been optioned to be remade as a fiction film). Can you find a truth here, fixed and coherent? Is the new reality ever in motion, never framed exactly? And how can you possibly assess, which reality is new, old, or real?


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.