Mosab Hassan Yousef fixes you with his intense, messianic gaze, hardly seeming to blink. The son of a Hamas founder, dubbed "the green prince," he gave intelligence to the Israeli Shin Bet, went into exile, and wrote a book about his experience, Son of Hamas: A Gripping Account of Terror, Betrayal, Political Intrigue, and Unthinkable Choices. His Shin Bet handler Gonen Ben Yitzhak is softly intense, a grandson of Polish Holocaust survivors; he left the Shin Bet and stepped up to help Mosab, when he faced deportation from his new home in the United States. The relationship between Arabs forced into spying against their communities, and their Israeli handlers is a trope now familiar in the west from last year's fiction films Bethlehem and Omar, with fatal results. The story of Mosab and Gonen, as recounted in the current documentary, The Green Prince, offers a contrast, and a paradigm for peace, even as the headlines look bleaker than ever. Eschewing notions of "occupation" and other rhetoric, these men spoke to me last week about the movies and the Middle East:
Compared to the sad endings of Bethlehem and Omar, The Green Prince seems to offer hope. Which ending is more the norm for "assets" and their handlers?
Gonen: An ending is something you decide. For this story, this is only the beginning. Mosab and I took risks to change our region.
I had a part in Bethlehem. I sat with director Yuval Adler, and gave him some ideas. Omar is not accurate; in a scene when Omar is interrogated by the Shin Bet, he is given electroshock treatment. This never happens. Mosab was interrogated. He can tell you if he got electroshock treatment. Unlike Bethlehem, Omar has a political agenda: you see Palestinians as victims and occupation as bad. Bethlehem shows an asset who is sympathetic to Israelis. This was the first movie that let Israelis sympathize with "the enemy." Now the Shin Bet uses Bethlehem during their training.
Mosab: We are here to talk about The Green Prince. I made choices but at least I demonstrated my freedom, even if some were mistakes. We saved lives. If you stop a suicide bomber, you save lives. If you save a single life, you save humanity. Forget politics: you are going against everything that you learned, identity, family, culture, and you choose to say, I choose humanity, the higher consciousness. This is our focus. I hope this film will teach everybody in captivity to learn to stand for their truth, to listen to their inner voice, to go against the flow if necessary.
Do you fear for your life?
Mosab: I have been out for 5 years. This is not new for me. Fear is an illusion, a mental state. Our inner voice tells us the truth; fear, shame, guilt--all these low levels of consciousness--keep us in captivity. My long term interest is higher than survival. I was not naïve. I knew that I would lose friends, family, my identity, and that people in the west would not understand. Humanity is my family; the universe is my home.
Gonen: Terror organizations target all Jews: this is the reality of my children. Last summer we celebrated my son's birthday and 20 friends from his class came. We had two missile attacks and twice had to run with 20 children to the shelter. We told my 2½ year-old daughter this was a game. She was saying I really like this game, but she was nervous. She knew it was a lie. I do not fear for my life; if we lose hope then the terrorists won and I don't want to give them that.
Do you define the Israeli presence as "an occupation?"
Mosab: Back in 1967 when the Arab nations got together they used to say, 'fish of the sea get hungry,' because they wanted to throw the Jews into the sea. After the war, Israel controlled the Golan Heights, Sinai, Gaza, the result of the war they launched against Israel. Sadat came to Israel. Sinai was given back to Egypt. Sadat was a peacemaker and paid with his life. Syria did not want to recognize Israel so the Golan is still under so-called occupation. Jordan's land was given back to Jordan.
Once, during the second Intifada in Ramallah, builders were on top of a building. When they poured the cement, the building collapsed. Twenty or so Palestinians were stuck under the rubble and the Palestinian authority because of their own corruption were not prepared for these circumstances. They had to ask the Israelis to help. The rescuers came and the Israeli police came to protect them. They rescued the workers, evacuated the wounded to Israeli hospitals. Afterwards, Palestinians threw stones on the IDF vehicles. The state of Israel is a remarkable state for democracy and for human rights. Do the Arab nations have the courage to speak the truth, to see their neighbor as better? I care that Israel is ready for peace but the other sides are not ready. Palestinians want to destroy Israel.
Gonen: In 1994 during the Oslo agreements, Hamas launched terrorist attacks in Israel. We tend to forget they were killing Israelis in buses within Israel. Rabin let Arafat inside Gaza to build. Now we are trying to stop "occupation," a legal term. The West Bank was Jordanian. There was never a Palestinian state. When does history begin? To find a solution, we need to be creative. If they say occupation is the problem, look at the news today. Assad killed 50 civilians in Syria. Is this in the name of occupation? How can it be that everywhere thousands are killed because of occupation? Hamas wants an Islamic state everywhere. They fight freedom. If they will take over, do you think the west will find a common language with the extremists?
What compromises are needed for peace?
Mosab: As long as we cannot negotiate, there will be war. The free world is willing to compromise, but not our freedoms. Would you be willing to cover yourself in a bag? This is how they like to see the world, all women in bags, everybody bearded headed for the mosque. Let the European union keep giving money to the Palestinians. They are not going to use it to secure the future of their children, but for corruption and greed. They don't like the principles of democracy. People see women, education, manifestations of freedom, but they don't like this lifestyle. You bring a wolf into a room with a sheep; you cannot ask it to become a different species. The wolf will kill the sheep. Israel has its right to be a Jewish state. Why not? Israel gives Palestinians education, technology; they give values to the universe. Palestinians reject Israel's right to exist. Ask yourself: How many states do they have? How do people live in those states and under what conditions? I think it is too late for the two-state solution. Our goal is to find a new way.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.