It is possible to say with reasonable certainty that Mosab Hassan Yousef is the eldest son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a founder of Hamas and one of its most prominent leaders in the West Bank. We also know that Yousef has denounced Hamas publicly since 2008, when he declared that he had converted to Christianity. He subsequently announced that he had willingly collaborated for a decade with Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service, starting in the mid-1990s. Yousef first made this claim in a book published in 2010, Son of Hamas: A Gripping Account of Terror, Betrayal, Political Intrigue, and Unthinkable Choices. He repeats his story, under a calmer title, in The Green Prince, a film that won an audience award at the 2014 Sundance festival and is now going into theatrical release.
One more certainty: the film, written and directed by Nadav Schirman, presents itself as a documentary. Beyond that, things get murky, starting with the question of what, exactly, The Green Prince documents.
To be absolutely literal, which I think is a good idea in this case, I would describe the film as a record of Yousef’s facial expressions, gestures and tones of voice as he sits in a nondescript room and narrates his story. The Green Prince is also an assemblage of existing records: archival images of Sheikh Hassan meeting with people and making speeches in Ramallah, videos of Hamas street demonstrations, news reports from various scenes of bloodshed, and photographs of a younger Yousef in his father’s company, dating from childhood through his 20s.
During the latter period, Yousef says, he served as his father’s adoring assistant, struggled to protect him from assassination by the Israelis, and also reported to Shin Bet as a matter of conscience and principle on the comings and goings, strategies and operations of Sheikh Hassan’s associates. But this account, however gripping, is precisely what The Green Prince cannot document.
Yousef has nothing to confirm his story except his own words—and he is, if you believe him, an accomplished liar. There is, of course, no physical evidence to prove the tale, nor is there anyone to confirm this narrative except for the second major character in The Green Prince, Gonen Ben Yitzhak, who says in his interview segments that he recruited Yousef and was his handler. A fleshy, broad-faced, grinning man who leans back comfortably in his nondescript room—unlike Yousef, who is slim, long-faced and always leaning in to make a point—Ben Yitzhak tells Schirman’s camera that he no longer serves with Shin Bet, which might be true, or not. No one should rush to say who’s employed by any intelligence agency, or guess how much fact might be included in any story that one of its present or ostensibly former agents puts out. Taking into account another of the film’s admissions against self, we might do well to listen to Ben Yitzhak when he explains that a large part of his job was to manipulate people’s minds.
There is simply no way to be sure of when Yousef started to collaborate with the Israelis, the circumstances under which he agreed to work with them, or even whether he was a Shin Bet informer at all. (He has certainly made himself into a propaganda asset for Israel, but he could have accomplished that without actually having spied on his father—he just had to say he did.) Most important of all, we can’t be sure of Yousef’s motives. He claims he chose to inform against Hamas because he was horrified by the violence it routinely practiced against its own people, and because he considered its tactic of suicide bombing to be nothing but aimless murder. He wanted to save lives, he says, and also stay true to the principles that his father held, or ought to have held.