The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been raging in its current form since the inception of the state of Israel after the Second World War. Some say there will never be peace between these two nations, while some hold out hope, or are at least cautiously optimistic that one day these opposing sides may stop the violence once and for all or at least tease out a peaceful coexistence.
Of course, like in any conflict, things are never black and white, there are always shades of grey, and just as there are people on both sides who will stop at nothing to destroy each other, there are always those people who make the moral decision to try and effect some small positive change to the status quo. In the documentary The Green Prince, director Nadav Schirman (In the Dark Room) puts the spotlight on two such people: Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of a high ranking member of Hamas, and Gonen Ben Yitzhak, a member of the Israeli intelligence service, the Shin Bet.
Having seen his father arrested and jailed multiple times by the Israeli government, Mosab is radicalized and after acquiring some illegal weapons, is himself interred in the Hamas wing of an Israeli prison. It is while he is incarcerated that Mosab witnesses the horrible violence Hamas inflicts on their own people and his view of the conflict changes. Now he wants to help protect Palestine by trying to break the cycle of violence all together and he agrees to become a double agent for the Shin Bet. This is when he meets Gonen, who becomes his handler. Little do they know, but these two men thrown together by circumstance will soon become allies and eventually friends in an astonishing true story that crosses all ideological boundaries.
As soon as Mosab agrees to help the Shin Bet, his father is released from prison and Mosab becomes his right hand man and is privy to some of the most important discussions in the upper echelons of Hamas. He is given the codename The Green Prince and begins funnelling all information back to Gonen, who learns early on that Mosab cannot be forced to do anything that he does not want to do and even though his bosses need him to push Mosab in certain directions, Gonen knows that to hold on to this relationship he needs to give it some breathing room. Gonen is not a usual intelligence agent, he knows how to play the “game” and he sees the nuances in the situation and the angles he needs to exploit. His refusal to do what his masters tell him make him a loose cannon in the Shin Bet and he and Mosab find they have something in common. They each want to fight the hypocrisy in the system to which they have become allied.
Both Mosab and Gonen are men trying to change the system from within, when despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, both sides in the conflict are only interested in perpetual war. This puts both men on the path toward their inevitable moral conflicts that will draw them closer together in the future despite their eventual geographical estrangement, as the system forces them to go their separate ways. When Mosab immigrates to the United States, he is in danger of being declared an enemy of the state and deported back to the Middle East and into the hands of those who want to kill him. When Gonen finds out about this, almost purely by chance, he makes it his mission to prove to the powers-that-be that Mosab is not the terrorist everyone thinks that he is. It is a credit to director Nadav Schirman that this inspirational story does not become too clichéd, as he just lets Mosab and Gonen tell the story as it happened.
Schirman presents this story as a straight retelling by both men. Each of them tells their respective sides, which don’t conflict but instead add those shades of grey of which they were so painfully aware. Using a style similar to that of Errol Morris, Schirman has his two characters appear to speak directly into the camera. These discussions then are intercut with some very stylish re-enactments and mock satellite and surveillance footage. This is a simple but effective way to tell his particular true story, which has so many interesting layers that there is no need for any bells and whistles to get in the way. There is also a great use of a dark, dramatic score that pushes all the right buttons when telling this gripping espionage tale.
The Green Prince is, at its heart, a tale about tolerance and moral obligation. When Mosab eventually ends up living in California and risks deportation, he cannot find help from anybody, not even those he calls his friends. It takes his old Shin Bet handler, a man he has not seen in years, to step up and try and help him out. In a world that is increasingly more concerned with the matters of the individual rather than that of the community, it is inspirational to see a story where even sworn enemies can find a common ground as human beings and put all other conflicts aside to just do the right thing.
A gripping tale of espionage and friendship beyond borders, The Green Prince is a pleasant surprise and most definitely worth a watch.