Documentary thriller injects hope into Israeli-Palestinian conflict

By Cate Marquis, Special to the Jewish Light

What would make the son of a Hamas leader become an agent for Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service? “The Green Prince” explores this question and more in a documentary that plays out like a psychological thriller against a political backdrop. This film, from the team behind the award-winning “Searching for Sugarman,” “Man on a Wire” and “Restrepo,” has more twists and surprises than any fictional tale.

Shin Bet agent Gonen Ben Yitzhak recruits 17-year-old Palestinian Mosab Hassan Yousef to work for him, an enormous accomplishment given that Mosab is the eldest son of Hamas’ co-founder and religious/political leader, Sheikh Hassan Yousef. Given the code name the Green Prince, Mosab becomes one of Shin Bet’s most prized assets with Ben Yitzhak as his handler. 

The backdrop of this suspenseful English-language film, winner of this year’s Sundance’s Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary, is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the focus is the relationship between the young Palestinian spy and his Israeli handler. 

Written and directed by Nadav Schirman, the film is based in part on Mosab Hassan Yousef’s best-selling memoir “Son of Hamas” and is told through first-person narration, rare archival footage and re-creations. Although it is not visually dynamic, the first-person direction into the camera narration by the two men involved gives the film great immediacy and palpable tension.  


“The Green Prince” offers a remarkable look inside the operations of both Hamas and Shin Bet. Sheikh Yousef is a fiery speaker for Hamas and well-respected in his community at a time when Hamas, founded as a religious and social political organization to support the Palestinian community, is moving towa rd militancy and violence. 

Mosab talks about how his father’s repeated turns in Israeli jails often left Mosab as head of the family as a teen and about how seeing his father arrested built a hatred in him for the sight of an Israeli uniform. When Mosab was arrested at 17, he said he would work with Shin Bet mostly just to win release. But Ben Yitzhak used the initial contact to start to build a relationship with the teen. 

As he notes in the film, “recruitment is an art,” Ben Yitzhak says in the film, based on finding a person’s weak points and motivations to persuade him to do things he never imagined he would do. 

As Mosab beganz to see Hamas as exploiting his father and taking him away from his family, Ben Yitzhak began the transformation. At same time, Ben Yitzhak encouraged the teen to stay in school and help his younger brothers and sisters. As the teen’s personal bond with Ben Yitzhak grew, Mosab positioned himself to be ever more valuable to Shin Bet. 

Central to the story is the personal relationship between these two men, with each taking risks for the other. It’s a remarkable friendship built on common human and moral values, giving the film a sense of hope rarely associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Add to this an unexpected turn of events that keeps viewers guessing, and the result is a worthy and memorable film experience.