The or­deal of Is­rael’s inside man

This fas­ci­nat­ing if frus­trat­ing doc­u­men­tary tells part of the story of a Ha­mas in­sider who spied for the Is­raelis, writes

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

THE GREEN PRINCE Di­rected by Na­dav Schir­man. Fea­tur­ing Mosab Has­san Yousef, Gonen ben Yitzhak Club, IFI, Dublin, 99 min Na­dav Schir­man, a young Is­raeli film-maker, has got­ten hold of an ex­tra­or­di­nary es­pi­onage story and – how could he not? – turned it into an un­de­ni­ably grip­ping doc­u­men­tary. En­thu­si­asts for the work of John le Carré will be in­ter­ested to learn that all the “trade­craft” stuff re­ally does ap­ply in the field. Per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal ten­sions are on dis­play through­out.

Nonethe­less, The Green Prince does not make the most of this ex­tra­or­di­nary ma­te­rial. There are too many repet­i­tive visual clichés. The talk­ing heads dom­i­nate a lit­tle too much. The film’s big­gest ques­tion is never prop­erly an­swered. Here is a film that had great­ness within its grasp and let it slip away.

The Green Prince tells the ex­tra­or­di­nary story of Mosab Has­san Yousef, a Pales­tinian re­cruited as a spy by Shin Bet, Is­rael’s in­ter­nal se­cret ser­vice, in the late 1990s. Yousef fed the Is­raelis in­for­ma­tion as the con­flict al­tered in character and fe­roc­ity. In or­der to con­ceal his com­plic­ity, Shin Bet had to at­tack his fam­ily home and send him back to prison. When he even­tu­ally de­cided to call a halt, the agency proved sin­gu­larly un­help­ful in clar­i­fy­ing his in­volve­ment to for­eign pow­ers.

All this would be ex­tra­or­di­nary enough if Mosab were the son of an or­di­nary baker or an un­re­mark­able doc­tor. But, as we learn ear­lier on, his fa­ther was Has­san Yousef, a key founder of Ha­mas. It’s hard to imag­ine a greater in­tel­li­gence coup.

So, why did Mosab do it? The film never re­ally comes up with a sat­is­fac­tory an­swer. He talks about wit­ness­ing tor­ture by Ha­mas op­er­a­tives. He is ap­palled by the in­creas­ing num­ber of sui­cide bomb­ings. But, whereas this might ex­plain a with­drawal from the move­ment, it doesn’t quite tell us why he made the dra­matic step of ad­vanc­ing to­wards the other side.

Mosab should be a fas­ci­nat­ing character, but there is an eva­sive­ness to the man – who now looks younger and fresher than he did 20 years ago – that, though use­ful for a spy, stands in the way of our un­der­stand­ing his mo­ti­va­tions.

Early on, Gonen ben Yitzhak, the agent’s han­dler in Shin Bet, talks about his charge’s un­will­ing­ness to play the com­mit­ted Mus­lim. He won’t wear the right clothes. He beefs up at the gym. When ben Yitzhak talks about want­ing Mosab to avoid be­hav­ing too much like “James Bond”, we get a sense that ego might be at the heart of his de­fec­tion. The no­tion is, how­ever, left hang­ing and his character re­ceives lit­tle fur­ther prod­ding.

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween Mosab and ben Yitzhak forms the film’s spine. Though many years have passed and many trau­mas have been en­dured, the two men tell much the same sto­ries through­out. The tech­ni­cal­i­ties of the op­er­a­tion are fas­ci­nat­ing, but it is only in the pic­ture’s last few mo­ments, when Shin Bet looks set to hang Mosab out to dry, that we get any sense of an emo­tional con­nec­tion.

The Green Prince in­ter­cuts in­ter­views with some pass­able recre­ations, bet­ter archival footage and re­peated, hack­neyed shots of crosshairs clos­ing in on build­ings shot in mock night-vi­sion. The ap­par­ent urge for po­lit­i­cal neu­tral­ity will almost cer­tainly an­noy ac­tivists on both sides.

Yet th­ese flaws never se­ri­ously hand­i­cap a story that is con­stantly re­veal­ing un­likely swerves and re­mark­able an­gles. The lack of psy­cho­log­i­cal in­sight is more than com­pen­sated for by a wealth of bizarre de­tail as to how such an ex­tra­or­di­nary op­er­a­tion was main­tained.

Did you know the se­cu­rity boffins can build a replica ta­ble in a day and out­fit it with in­vis­i­ble lis­ten­ing equip­ment? You do now.

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