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Meeting The Green Prince

The thrill of a close encounter with a Palestinian spy and his handler, heroes who did the right thing
Screenshot from The Green Prince
Screenshot from The Green Prince

If you haven’t seen “The Green Prince” yet, do so immediately.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I took my seat at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque last Friday morning. Within seconds, my jaw dropped and remained that way for the next 100 minutes.

The Green Prince, for those who are unfamiliar, is the documentary story of the son of Hamas founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef, and how he came to be the top spy for the Shin Bet (Israel’s Security Agency) from 1997-2007. No matter which way you present his story, it’s one that defies all logic. This man, Mosab Hassan Yousef, chose to live a life of lies during the 10 years he served as an informant for Israel—all for the sake of trying to save lives. Even as I watched him explain his reasons for his decisions, the facts of his life create such a mental dissonance that it’s almost impossible to reconcile it with reality.

One of the most striking scenes in the film is when Mosab emotionally describes how, despite his years of sacrifice and devotion to the Shin Bet, the Israelis he worked with never fully trusted him. That is, all but one: his primary handler, Gonen Ben Itzhak. Their friendship is the reason this miraculous story was able to come true.

It’s nothing short of dumbfounding to see how Gonen put his career and even his life on the line time and again to protect the son of a major terrorist. That’s one of the many miracles captured by this extraordinary film—that eventually, you see these two individuals as just that: individuals. No longer are we scrutinizing the son of Hamas and a top Shin Bet officer on the big screen before us. The strength of their loyalty to one another is so rare, I can’t help but wonder: Has there ever been another pair like them in the history of this conflict?

When the director took the stage following the film, we in the audience were still recovering from our dumbstruck silence. Someone finally asked: “What was it like to work with these two men?” The director answered with a smile, “Why don’t you ask them yourselves?”

My heart leaped into my mouth—yes, to cap off the mood of miracles, there they were: Mosab and Gonen, in the flesh, ascending the stage and bowing sheepishly to the roar of applause. We could hardly believe our eyes.

There they were: suddenly so ordinary and human, somebody you could pass by in the street and never think twice, and these two men had accomplished larger-than-life feats. They had potentially saved my life, and yours. Regardless of the mistakes they may have made along the way, these two people showed the world that miracles can happen in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. You can choose to follow your own moral compass, even if that means going against your entire society. Here they were, looking so much smaller and down-to-earth than they had moments ago on the big screen, and yet these two men are responsible for saving countless Israeli lives—including the life of our very own president, Shimon Peres.

What’s so amazing about their story, when you think about it, is that it’s ultimately a portrait of the simplest moral every child learns from a young age: Do what’s right. It sounds so simple. That’s what they were trying to do, and they both nearly died for it.

Someone in the audience must have been thinking the same thing I was, because she asked: “Mosab, after all the threats to your life, do you feel safe now?” He replied with a grin, “Do YOU feel safe?” Everyone laughed, appreciating his humor. After all, how safe can anyone really be in the Middle East? Nothing is a guarantee.

Another audience member raised his hand. “Do you think there are many others like you in the Muslim world?” To which Mosab answered, “Well, you don’t know who I am. I could still surprise you. But yes, there are good people everywhere. There are people even better than me.”

Mosab and Gonen continued to answer questions, but their common message rang through loud and clear. As Mosab put it, “When terrorist attacks happen, people see black. We want to add more white to this black-and-white picture. We want to give people the message of hope.”

As we slowly filed out of the auditorium, Mosab and Gonen stood by the exits, accepting compliments and shaking hands. There were so many things I wanted to say to Mosab. I wanted to hug him. I wanted to tell him that he had changed the way I see this conflict. I wanted to tell him I was proud of him, and I was sorry that he had to suffer all he suffered for the sake of doing the right thing. I wanted to tell him that he did give me hope.

But I stood in front of him, my heart hammering in my chest, and said nothing. Israelis being pushy as they are, I quickly got shoved aside and thus continued my way out the door. But Mosab and Gonen, if you ever read this, I just want to say: Thank you. Thank you for everything you did to save our lives, on both sides. Thank you for the sacrifices you made. Thank you for inspiring the world with your bravery and your commitment to doing what’s right. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

About the Author
Libbie Snyder manages a freelance writing and editing business from Tel Aviv, serving high tech and startup companies across Israel. She earned her BA in English Literature from Montreal's McGill University. Originally from Boston, she made aliyah in 2009.