Spy-thriller doc offers hope
January 22, 2014
Pensive and reserved behind dark eyes, Mosab Yousef doesn’t look like a man whose story would carry so much hope. He’s spent 10 years of his life as a spy for Shin-Bet, Israel’s secretive security agency, a feat made all the more incredible by his upbringing as the son of a top Hamas leader. But it is not Yousef’s political endeavors, which alone would have made for a riveting spy-thriller, that make the Sundance documentary "The Green Prince" so compelling. It is the moral integrity and shedding of prejudice displayed in the relationship between Yousef and his Hamas "handler" Gonen Yitzhak that draws the audience in and leaves them with faith not only for the future of the Middle East but for the entire world.
Yousef was first apprehended by the Shin-Bet when he was a 17-year-old filled with hatred for the Israeli civilians blamed for his father’s incarceration. As the child of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, his arrival in the midst of Hamas politics made him recruiting gold. Although Yousef initially lashed out at Yitzhak, he agreed to work for Israel after the brutality displayed between Hamas in Israeli prisons led him to question his values.
It wasn’t for Israel that Yousef took a stand, but for human life. Even as one of Israel’s top sources he refused to involve himself in assassination plots and continued to protect his father, even going so far as to arrange for his father’s arrest in order to preserve his life. Following his internal moral compass, Yousef tried to ignore the animosity on both sides of the conflict. Said Yousef, "If I was fighting to stop killing on the Israeli’s side, I had to keep that level of integrity."
It is Yousef’s grasp of humanity in a world characterized by fear, extremism, and hatred that speaks most clearly to the very soul of human nature. Yousef describes his decision to collaborate with Israel as the "most shameful thing" he could possibly have done in the eyes of his people even though he earned neither respect nor reward from the Israeli government.
And yet, this is not just Yousef’s story. Caught between two worlds, Yousef and Yitzhak develop a bond explicitly forbidden by both cultures. Ignoring both risks and protocol, Yitzhak began to meet Yousef alone and on a personal basis. We watch as his role in Yousef’s life changes from that of a cold and exploitative handler to that of a very human protector.
According to director Nadav Schirman, "If these two best of enemies could come together then that means all of us can come together. I think what’s very special about this story is that these two people took a leap of faith to trust one another. If this would happen on the political leaders’ level, I think we would be in much better shape."
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The story, Shirman said, is "humbling." It suggests that a future of peace and understanding both in the Middle East and beyond may not be impossible, if only people are able to follow Yousef and Yitzhak’s example and trade bigotry for understanding. Says Schirman, "When you meet one-on-one with a person, every human being is the same."
The Green Prince is screening in Sundance’s World Documentary competition on: