Saturday, May 7, 2016

A Son of Hamas Turns His Back

Review of the documentary, the Green Prince. Spoiler alert.

In one of the more bizarre twists of the Palestinian drama, the son of a Hamas leader turned into a tireless worker for the Shin Bet from about 1997 to  2007. Now he lives in the US, at undisclosed locations. This film is essentially an memoir of this story, with two people talking to the camera, Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son, and Gonen Ben Yitzhak, his Israeli intellegence handler.

The format was oddly compelling, because the people are compelling- intelligent and dedicated. But to what? Yousef was raised in the West Bank, the eldest son in a leading family, and became his father's right hand. His father was one of the main people you would hear screaming on the news, preaching publicly about the evils of Israel, the righteousness of Islam and the Intifada, and the need for Hamas to run things in the West Bank as well as Gaza. As Hamas goes, he was not the most extreme, but nor was he a member of the Palestinian Authority- the Palestinian patsies.

Father HassanYousef at a Hamas Rally.

So turning to the Shin Bet was unthinkable in tribal terms. But when Yousef had his first experience in prison, courtesy of an Israeli checkpoint where he was found with some guns, he had a chance to compare tribes. While the Israelis were harsh, they had limits and operated under some kind of lawful system.

The Hamas cell in the prison, however, was brutally sadistic. Yousef describes the killing of scores of putative spies and informants in horrific fashion, with scant evidence. For an idealistic youth, it presented a problem, especially in contrast to the idealized version of the Palestinian cause that he had grown up with. Where at first he didn't take the offer from the Shin Bet seriously, now he had second thoughts. What if his idealism was more about non-violence, peace, and saving lives than about tribal competition?

There follows a lengthy career relaying information from his position at the center of Hamas with his father to the core of Shin Bet, preventing attacks, preventing assassinations, and also, in essence, dictating his father's fate. A central conundrum of intelligence work like this is how to use the informant's information without giving away his or her identity. To maintain Yousef's cover for a decade bespeaks very careful work on all sides.

But the larger issue remains untouched. While Yousef comes off as heroic and idealistic, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is no more justified by Israel's lawful and partial restraint (or by its relentless stealing of land) than it is by the bottomless resentment and madness of Hamas. Treat people like prisoners and animals, and they often act that way. Moreover, Israel holds total control. They need no "partners" to resolve their doomed and immoral occupation. They only need to get out, and get their settlers out.

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