Being able to speak with an actual source like Mosab Hassan Yousef is something that I thought I would never get the opportunity to do. For those of you who don’t know, he was an informant for Israeli intelligence who went by the codename of The Green Prince. He spent around ten years undercover working for Shin Bet and was considered the most valuable asset they had due to his direct contact with leadership of the Hamas.
Along with him for this journey was and is Gonen Ben Yitzhak, a former Shin Bet agent who served as Yousef’s handler for those years when he was working on the inside. I knew that both would have a lot to say, but I also knew that I wanted to listen to it regardless of what was said. So, when I got the chance to sit with them and speak on their experiences, I had my ears wide open and willing to hear a little about their experiences on such dangerous and controversial terrain during their time in the field and doing this documentary.
Not only is The Green Prince Mosab Hassan Yousef’s code name, it’s also the name of the documentary from Nadav Schirman. Below, is what both Yousef and Yitzhak had to say about working with him and how it all came about for them:
Mosab Hassan Yousef: The documentary, The Green Prince is based on the book Son of Hamas. Son of Hamas was published back in 2010 and became very popular at that time. So this is how Nadav Schirman heard about the story and he came up with the idea of making a documentary, we liked his vision and we moved forward.
Gonen Ben Yitzhak: For me, in the beginning it was like another hustle, because I had enough trouble with the Shin Bet already with my relationship with Mossad and the deportation trial and now a movie, which basically I’m supposed to ask for permission and I knew if we were going to make the movie I was not going to ask for permission, but then maybe I’ll get in trouble with the Shin Bet. So it was a decision to again go against the Shin Bet, but at the same time for me, it was the first time an opportunity to talk about the events, because I’ve never spoke about what happened. Even my parents heard for the first time when they watched the film in Tel Aviv last May, so I never had the opportunity to talk about it. It was like going and unloading all the events and experiences. It was a good feeling.
Regardless of how you feel about what’s been going on during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, every knows that being an agent is dangerous work that could result in grave consequences. Some may view doing this documentary as being dangerous in its own right, while others might see it as courageous. However, that’s not completely how the actual agent involved views it:
Yitzhak: Well, I didn’t look at it that way. For me it was really an opportunity to talk about it and process what happened, because everything was so tense during those the years. Working with Shin Bet, then I was thrown out of the Shin Bet, then the events with the book, the trial. Everything was very tense. Now I had the opportunity to sit, to talk about it, to process it, which was a great opportunity for me.
One of the things that might run through the minds of people would be about the reception that the book and the documentary have been met with. As Yitzhak explains, he didn’t quite know what to expect from the people in his home country, but he did get an answer eventually:
Yitzhak: When the book was published, the book was and still is the best-selling book in Israel. People love it. I know the soldiers in the Israeli army, this is a must read book. All the soldiers in Israel keep a copy of the book. They read it and know the story. I wasn’t really sure how the Israeli audience was going to get the movie, because first of all, Israelis tend to be very cynical. Second, there is a feeling among Israelis that movies about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they saw enough. Of course, this is not about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but when people hear about the movie this is what they think, so I was very nervous before the first screening. I saw some of my old colleagues coming to watch the movie and during the screening, I started to think ‘How are they going to feel about what we say in the movie regarding the Shin Bet?’ Very surprising for me, we got tremendous love from the Israeli audience. People were really touched by the movie. Even friends of mine that were very cynical before they watched it , they went to watch the movie and they were amazed afterward. For me, it’s very hard for me to be apart of the movie and see how others see it and get it. It’s a success in the box office in Israel. For a documentary, I think more than thirty-five or forty thousand people. It’s a huge number for a documentary in Israel.
As he continued to talk about the documentary’s reception, Yitzhak went on to talk about working on the film, what it meant to some people and its impact in his home country of Israel.
Yitzhak: First, I must say, like other things that we did together while working in The Shin Bet, we had successful operations when we had teamwork. It was never the fact that there was one guy doing something. It was a great asset, there was a handler, and there was a team behind it to make operations succeed. Here in the movie, you had the same thing. We had just an unbelievable team around the world in Israel, in Germany, in Britain, in the U.S. People that really put their hearts into the movie. I think the success is not just because of the story. It’s also because there was a team. I remember the time we were shooting in Munich. I saw the film crew, and I asked them ‘How many years have you worked together?’ Because it looked like, the photographer, the sound men, everybody knew their jobs and they were insisting to stay on the set for long times. We were shooting for sometimes twelve hours, thirteen hours and they working their hearts out. I said ‘How many years have you worked together?’ They said ‘This is the first time we worked together’ and it was amazing, because they really put their heats into it. This is one part of the reason why people get into this story, because the people working on this put their hearts into it. The other reason is because I think what Israelis see in the movie, Nadav Schirman, the director was successful in giving people hope. In Israel, people look for this glimpse of hope. To see something that is more optimistic. I thought that during the Gaza clashes and war that maybe people will lose it and even during the war, we had screenings and all the screenings were sold out. Even during a missile attack people went out of their homes to watch the movie. It shows how strong the movie’s impact was on Israel.
One of the things that I wanted to know about more than anything was Yousef’s reactions and thought about being approached to help Israeli intelligence. I knew it had to be difficult for him, but I wanted to know what was going through his mind at the time when he was approached and when he eventually chose to get involved:
Yousef: At that time, I was still very young. If you can imagine what it’s like for a Palestinian child growing up in that environment, the oldest son of a top Hamas leader, very conservative Muslim family with national and political and religious agendas, you can see that the environment shaped me in a certain way that was very hard to change or reshape. At the time when the Israeli intelligence came to offer me to work for them, I hated Israel for many reasons. Political reasons, ideological reason, personal reasons. My father was sent for many times. I had to see violence and bloodshed. So when they approached me for the first time, I was motivated by revenge. I wanted to take advantage of whatever offer they had on the table. That is why agreed to work for Israeli intelligence. Motivated by revenge to play a double agent to take information to Hamas, do things against Israeli intelligence even though I didn’t have an exact plan. My agreement to work for Israeli intelligence was not to help Israel by any chance. That was not the original motive.
As he continued speaking about his experience, he began to talk about how going to prison during this time shaped his views and motives as he got a first hand look at things he never seen before.
Yousef: I had to go to prison, and spend some time in prison. That’s where I discovered the brutality and the real nature of the Hamas movement, which is my father’s movement. At home, I saw my father as a father on a personal level, but I did not see him in action as Hamas personnel. Hamas personnel was completely different than the one that I knew at home. Also, the other leaders of Hamas were completely different. In prison, I came to face the real nature of Hamas and to understand its core, which had me ask questions about that nature. “Is this what you want to be associated with?” ‘Is this why me and my family have been suffering?’ ‘My father working for this type of organization?’ My father taught us how to think like leaders and not to think like soldiers. And when I saw the brutality and the torture that took place in prison – Hamas versus Palestinian people – I came to understand that those guys don’t differentiate. They really don’t care about our people. So, If Israel cares about our people, at least they take the person to a court. There’s a judge, there’s justice. And Hamas people, they just kidnap somebody and torture him physically and mentally and kill some of them for suspicion of collaborating with Israel. I came to question the nature of that movement, and that was the beginning of this journey. Now later on, when I was released from prison, I learned from a lot from Israeli intelligence about our social problems, about our cultural problems and the limitations that we have as a society. Even though it was a very big risk to be associated with Israeli intelligence, I was doing now for the second motive which was curiosity. Seeking for the truth. I wanted to understand what was really going on even though I was learning from my worst enemies. The enemies that I did not trust even when I was associated with them. They did not trust me either, but each party was learning. They were learning about my reality, I was learning about their reality, I was learning about my reality through their lenses and vice versa. So basically, this was them entrusting me knowing that I was taking a very high risk. In case I was discovered, I would be executed on the spot.
Yousef then goes on to speak about life after all of this. He’s already lived a life that the vast majority of us will never experience, but he’s continued to learn and expand on his knowledge of self and his own religious beliefs as well.
Yousef: Later on, when I was exposed to Jesus Christ or “Christ conscience,” which was liberating for me. It was beyond religion, beyond limitation of the mind. It was about a matter of heart. I started to look at the picture differently when I saw the teachings of “love your enemy.” Practically, I was in a relationship with my enemy, but my enemy who’s seemed to be my enemy at some point, today, they’re my friends. I found an umbrella for this new level of consciousness and I could transcend. So basically, it’s an evolution. I did not expect that when I started, I started motivated by revenge, but then I ended up risking my life to save Israeli lives. This is a transformation It’s a conscience revolution that could happen to any person if we stand for our truth and have the ability to discern between truth and falsehood.
To make it through ten years of this would to be have to be draining in a multitude of ways. Seeing as how Yousef made it through alive while potentially staring at danger at any given moment could also pique the interest of many who hear his amazing story. In this response below, he gives a glimpse into how he survived it all.
Yousef: My cover was very strong. To be a son of a top Hamas leader like one of the top politicians of the country, usually you fly under everybody’s radar. Nobody would expect that such a thing could happen. I lived my life and kept a low profile and Israeli intelligence had to play some games to convince everybody that I was a high-profile terrorist. This is how everybody was deceived.
Today, Mosab Hassan Yousef and Gonen Ben Yitzhak consider themselves to be very close friends. As a matter of fact, they see themselves as being something like brothers. While speaking about the bond that developed between the two, Yitzhak opened up about what makes all kinds of relationships in life the strongest.
Yitzhak: I think that sometimes people don’t understand that in order to get this kind of relationship, you have to have some mutual ground or some mutual values. Because when we talk about Hamas, I don’t see a possibility to have peace with Hamas. Hamas is an organization that doesn’t share any value with us. When I say with us, I’m not just talking about Israeli’s, I’m talking about people in the western and eastern worlds. They don’t share with us any value. They can talk in a way that maybe you will be convinced that what they’re saying is right, but they can deceive you cause their values are not the same. The reason we found a way to become brothers is because we shared values, the same common values. So, I can not tell you that tomorrow will be peace as long as they don’t change their way of thinking. But what people see when they watch the film are people who made decisions and took responsibility for what they do. We give the audience an opportunity to watch the film and criticize us and see that some of the things we did were wrong, we made our own mistakes and we did our good things and they can value it. Then when they go home, maybe they’ll understand that if they follow their hearts and take responsibility for what they do, that this will make the change.
Yousef also chimed in on this topic at the very end of the interview. Being through all that he’s experienced has gave him a view on life that many of us never have. While speaking on the subject during his parting words, he also shared something that I see as being valuable and ultimately very wise no matter your beliefs or background. I can’t tell people to listen to what he says here, but I will say that it’s best to pay it some attention.
Yousef: We need to ask people to trust in themselves and stand for their truths. How many of us, not only in the middle east, this is a universal story. It could happen anywhere. The film focuses on the human trauma in a certain region under the influence of a certain political system, but it’s not limited to a certain region. We’re discussing human conditioning. Our environments shape us in a certain way and an inner voice comes to all of us to remind us that this is not who we really are. It’s not our ego, it’s not our mind, it’s not the script that was written, and we sense in our intelligence that there is something wrong. And we see the betrayal of the mind, we see the confusion that we are facing. We don’t have answers for questions, but most of us choose to stay in our comfort zone, because getting out of our comfort zone means going to the unknown. And all of us are afraid of going to the unknown. This is the sheep algorithm by the way. The sheep. Give it food and water and the shepherd can lead the sheep wherever they go and the sheep will follow not knowing it’s going to end up at the slaughterhouse. The shepherd is not the best friend of the sheep. The shepherd is the worst enemy of the sheep in this case. So basically, many people see the truth, sense the truth, but they don’t have the will. Always their mind, their ego, whatever they’re conditioned is betraying their will. Their inner intelligence, their inner voice, their cosmic one that is not limited to culture. Some of us come to understand this problem and they’re able to transcend. And I believe in our case, we were able to transcend the barriers. The cultural barriers, the religious ones, the political ones and come to a place where we can see and understand the oneness that there is no difference, that there is no separation. All this separation is created by the mind. That is very limited. Our true nature is not like this. We are part of the divine; The Heavenly Father and all of us are the same. This is I think the main message of the film.