Inspired by Mosab Hassan Youssef’s memoir Son of Hamas, Nadav Schirman’s grueling documentary burrows into the mindset of a Palestinian who was recruited to spy on his own family. Like a fusion of Omar and The Gatekeepers, its central interviews with Youssef and his Shin Bet contact Gonen Ben Yitzhak yield insights on intelligence methods and the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire, but also show how individually distinct and twisty all such relationships must be.
What’s extraordinary here is the pedigree: Mosab’s father, Sheikh Hassan Youssef, was a founder and leader of Hamas with a fanatical following. Mosab was arrested as a teenager, and Schirman elicits from him the volatile mix of coercion, muddled principles, and painful emotional history that paved the road to betrayal. Dramatically shot head-on, his eyes lit up and vulnerable, Mosab cuts a riveting but unsettled presence, less polished than the practiced Ben Yitzhak.
Perhaps like almost any account of the region’s conflict, The Green Prince’s explanations are doomed to feel insufficient and its political stance unsatisfying. (Schirman’s 2013 feature, In the Dark Room, examined another open wound with its portrait of self-absorbed former terrorist Magdalena Kopp.) But despite some ill-advised reenactment sequences, the 99-minute film (named after Mosab’s codename) goes a long way towards depicting the dance of loyalties that accompanies generational shifts in political position, and strikes an emotional chord well beyond the world of covert operations.