Son of Hamas
E. M. Hicham
Mosab Hassan Yousef is an extraordinary young man with an extraordinary story. The son of an influential leader of the militant Hamas organisation from the Palestinian West Bank, he grew up in a strict Islamic family but became a devout Christian ten years ago.
‘I absolutely know that in anybody’s eyes I was a traitor’, says Yousef. ‘To my family, to my nation, to Allah. I crossed all the red lines in my society. I didn’t leave one that I didn’t cross’.
Now, aged 32, he attends an evangelical Christian church at Barabbas Road in San Diego, California. He renounced his Muslim faith, left his family behind in Ramallah, and is seeking asylum in the United States. He has been interviewed by several media organisations, including Fox News, about the radical changes in his life (see YouTube).
When a lay Christian from the UK happened to invite a young Middle Eastern man in Jerusalem’s old city to a Bible study, he had no idea he was talking to the son of a key Hamas figure. ‘These guys were just going out and asking people to come for the Bible study’, Yousef told Al-Hayat Christian Arabic channel (Life TV).
‘I didn’t even understand his English. He was talking to me by signals and I understood the invitation from his signals’. Yousef agreed to attend the Bible study because he was curious. ‘I never had in my mind in that moment that I would go so far as to become a Christian. I had studied history and thought this would be a good chance to study, to meet new international people and see what they are saying. It was definitely not about Christianity.
‘[But] I found that I was really drawn to the grace, love and humility that Jesus talked about’. At the end of the meeting Yousef went home with a gift – an Arabic/English Bible!
‘When I read the New Testament, I fell in love with it. I was truly attracted by Jesus. To be able to know him through his personality, teaching and life; how he behaved with all kinds of people. I was astonished at him and his philosophy.
‘At that time I only saw him as a great philosopher. He wasn’t God. He was just a philosopher to me. The more I kept reading the New Testament, the more I loved the Christian faith. At this time I was still praying five times a day. I was still a Muslim’.
‘I so loved the New Testament that I thought that every Muslim should read it. Islam mixed with Christianity would be the way to improve Muslims’ situation. When I told the Christian team about what was going on in my mind and my admiration for Jesus they asked what I was waiting for – to trust him and be baptised.
”Impossible!’ was my answer. ‘No one will ever baptise me. I am a Muslim’. I was so angry and proud of myself. ‘I will never be baptised and become Christian’.
‘So they asked me, ‘How are you going to reconcile the two faiths? How can you mix Islam with Christianity? Are you going to start your own new religion?’
‘To this I replied, affirming that I was going to gather both religions! I was so angry and full of pride. ‘Yes, I’ll start my own religion. It will be a mixture of Islam and Christianity’.
‘After my reaction I really thought that our relationship was going to stop. But what astonished me was that their attitude to me did not change. Despite the fact that I reacted angrily, they kept loving me. I saw nothing from them except love and respect.
‘I was so moved by this. I had never seen something like it before in the Muslim society – especially not in Hamas. Anyone who had views different to those of his Islamic party would be considered as a traitor and enemy. But not with those Christians! Their love for me kept me going to many Bible studies till I became Christian’.
Throughout the last decade, from the second Intifada to the current stalemate, Yousef worked alongside his father in the West Bank. And as he reveals in his memoir Son of Hamas (written with Ron Brackin), he became one of the top spies for Israel’s internal security arm, the Shin Bet.
One of Yousef’s handlers at the Shin Bet confirmed Yousef’s account to the Israeli daily, Haaretz. He was considered ‘the most reliable and most senior agent’. The intelligence he supplied Israel led to the exposure of a number of terrorist cells, and the prevention of dozens of suicide bombings and assassination attempts on Israeli figures.
Son of Hamas is an attempt to answer what Yousef says ‘is impossible to imagine’ – ‘how I ended up working for my enemies, who hurt me, who hurt my dad, who hurt my people’. It was during this time that he was invited to the Bible study and secretly embraced Christianity.
Yousef claims some significant intelligence coups for himself. He was the first to discover that the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a terrorist group spawned by the second Intifada, was made up of Yasser Arafat’s guards who were directly funded by international donors.
He claims he found the most lethal Palestinian bomb maker and foiled assassination plots against President Shimon Peres and the Israeli foreign minister. He broke up cells of suicide bombers and helped convince his father that he should be the first prominent Hamas leader to offer a truce with Israel.
What motivated Yousef? He says it was to save lives. ‘I’d seen enough killing. I was a witness to lots of death – Saving a human life was something really, really beautiful – no matter who they are.
‘Not only Israeli people owe me their lives. I guarantee many terrorists, many Palestinian leaders, owe me their lives – or in other words, they owe my Lord their lives’.
Yousef says his influence at Shin Bet persuaded the Israelis to arrest Hamas leaders, including his father, rather than kill them with missile strikes. ‘I know for sure that my father is alive today, he still breathes, because I was involved in this thing’.
Yousef traces his openness to Christian truth to his first sustained exposure to Hamas cruelty. In 1996, he was arrested by the Israelis for buying weapons. He was sent to serve a prison term at Megiddo in northern Israel and was shocked by the way the maj’d – Hamas’ security arm – dealt with the other prisoners.
‘Every day, there was screaming; every night, torture. Hamas was torturing its own people!’ he writes. The Muslims in jail ‘were mean and petty … bigots and hypocrites’.
When asked by a Fox News presenter, ‘Do you consider your father a fanatic?’ He replied, ‘He’s not a fanatic. He’s a very moderate, logical person. What matters is not whether my father is a fanatic or not – he’s doing the will of a fanatic god. It doesn’t matter if he’s a terrorist or a traditional Muslim. At the end of the day a traditional Muslim is doing the will of a fanatic, fundamentalist, terrorist god.
‘I know this is harsh to say. Most governments avoid this subject. They don’t want to admit this is an ideological war. The problem is not in Muslims. The problem is with their god. They need to be liberated from their god. He is their biggest enemy. It has been 1,400 years they have been lied to’.
These are dangerous words. Hamas – still reeling from the assassination of a senior military chief in Dubai in January – calls Yousef’s claims ‘Zionist propaganda’. From the Israeli prison he has occupied since 2005, Yousef’s father has issued the statement that he and his family ‘have completely disowned the man who was our oldest son and who is called Mosab’.
Of the threats issued to his life by Islamists, Yousef says, ‘That’s not the worst thing that can happen to you. I’m OK with it, I’m not afraid … Palestinians have reason to kill me. Some Israelis may want to kill me. My goal is not to defeat my enemy; it is to win over my enemy’.
As Yousef’s awesome testimony continues to make waves in the media it is important to remember how God brought this all about – through difficulty, hardship and faith. I am so encouraged by Yousef’s church in its willingness to love and support him, and I am so humbled that God has given us a glimpse into his work among Muslims.
Let us pray for those who will read this book and especially for Yousef’s family, who may still be in harm’s way.
Son of Hamas, by Mosab Hassan Yousef, is published by Tyndale House (ISBN: 9781414336688)