Prince in dark­ness

Mosab Has­san Yousef is the son of the found­ing lead­ers of Ha­mas, but he be­trayed his fam­ily and his up­bring­ing to be an agent for the Is­raeli se­cret ser­vice. He ex­plains his world view to Tara Brady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - COVER STORY -

I’m almost sur­prised to find Mosab Has­san Yousef sit­ting ca­su­ally in a May­fair bar. Yes, I knew he was com­ing. And yes, this is pre­cisely where we were sup­posed to meet. But hav­ing spent a decade work­ing as an in­for­mant for Is­rael’s in­ter­nal se­cu­rity ser­vice Shin Bet, Yousef should, one thinks, have ar­rived in heavy dis­guise with a squadron of body­guards. Or at least sit far away from the win­dows.

In­stead, he shrugs and or­ders some food: “I live my life nor­mally,” says the 36-year-old, who re­lo­cated to San Diego six years ago. “I try to look for­ward.”

Be­tween 1997 and 2007, Yousef, as recorded by the new doc­u­men­tary The Green Prince, was one of Shin Bet’s most valu­able op­er­a­tives.

It’s not just that he was op­er­at­ing at the high­est lev­els of Ha­mas. Yousef is the old­est son of Has­san Yousef, one of the found­ing lead­ers of that or­gan­i­sa­tion. For years, he was his fa­ther’s clos­est con­fi­dant and aide. And for many of those years, he was sup­ply­ing in­for­ma­tion to the Is­raelis that al­lowed them to pre­vent dozens of sui­cide at­tacks and po­lit­i­cal as­sas­si­na­tions, in­clud­ing a 2001 plot to kill Shi­mon Peres.

The story of Plato’s cave

So how did a young­ster who was first ar­rested, aged 10, for throw­ing rocks at Is­raeli set­tlers end up work­ing for the other side?

“The anal­ogy that I like a lot is Plato’s cave,” he says. “I went through dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal sys­tems and gov­ern­ments and ter­ror­ist groups and war zones. I have lived un­der Is­lam and in the free world. And you come to re­alise that many peo­ple are look­ing at the wall watch­ing a bunch of shad­ows. Their per­cep­tion of truth is com­pletely dis­torted.”

Yousef first be­gan to ques­tion his Is­lamic faith when, in 1996, the Is­raelis jailed him in a Ha­mas-con­trolled prison wing, where he saw Ha­mas op­er­a­tives, in­clud­ing his un­cle, tor­ture and kill pris­on­ers they sus­pected of co­op­er­at­ing with the Is­raelis.

“Every­body was afraid in prison, in­clud­ing my un­cle,” he re­calls. “Every­body was afraid to

How would peo­ple in Ire­land act if a ter­ror­ist group or neigh­bour­ing coun­try started launch­ing mis­siles? You need to un­der­stand that war is ugly

op­pose tor­ture and killing. I was afraid. In that so­ci­ety, we didn’t have rights.”

His ab­hor­rence for Ha­mas ac­tiv­i­ties within the prison – and what he saw as the Shin Bet’s rel­a­tively hu­mane in­ter­ro­ga­tion meth­ods – prompted him to be­come an in­for­mant.

But Yousef’s sit­u­a­tion was fur­ther com­pli­cated by his friend­ship with Gonen ben Yitzhak, his for­mer Shin Bet han­dler. That re­la­tion­ship forms the spine of the fas­ci­nat­ing new film.

“At the be­gin­ning it was very hard to see him as a per­son,” says Yousef. “I al­ready had cer­tain per­cep­tions of what an Is­raeli se­cret-ser­vices agent was like. But in time my per­cep­tion be­came more ac­cu­rate. I came to see hu­man­ity in him and in other agents that I worked with.

Hu­man­be­ings

“They had fam­i­lies. They had chil­dren. They had good qual­i­ties. They had bad qual­i­ties. They were hu­man be­ings. That brought me to ques­tion the na­ture of my fa­ther and Ha­mas. Ha­mas wanted to de­stroy ev­ery­thing that was Is­raeli or Jewish or Amer­i­can.”

How does he feel lis­ten­ing to western Euro­peans who are sym­pa­thetic to­wards the Pales­tinian cause? “That’s just stu­pid­ity,” he says. Does he mean ig­no­rance?

“No. No. No. I mean stu­pid­ity. When we crit­i­cise Is­rael, we are crit­i­cis­ing our­selves. Is­raelis are no dif­fer­ent from peo­ple who live in western Europe. Is­rael is ba­si­cally an ex­ten­sion of western civil­i­sa­tion and its val­ues.

“Jews and Chris­tians have lib­erty. They can choose to be­lieve what they be­lieve. They can choose to wor­ship how­ever they want to wor­ship.

“When we use that lib­erty and choose to iden­tify our­selves with rad­i­cal move­ments, with peo­ple who live in the dark­ness, peo­ple who don’t be­lieve in the western model, who don’t be­lieve in democ­racy: then we are mis­taken.”

He scarcely pauses for breath. “And how would peo­ple here in London or in Ire­land or in Ger­many act if a ter­ror­ist group or neigh­bour­ing coun­try started launch­ing mis­siles? You need to un­der­stand that war is ugly.”

In 1999, Yousef met a Bri­tish mis­sion­ary who in­tro­duced him to Chris­tian­ity. He was bap­tised in 2005, but is not af­fil­i­ated with any par­tic­u­lar de­nom­i­na­tion.

“I don’t read the Bi­ble or go to church,” he tells me. “I be­lieve that re­li­gion is a nec­es­sary evil. Just like the gov­ern­ment, I did not leave Is­lam to be­come a Christian. But Chris­tian­ity re­ally helped me to es­cape from the Is­lamic mind­set. I still follow the idea of loving our en­e­mies and of un­con­di­tional for­give­ness.”

His con­ver­sion came as a shock to his fam­ily, although they re­mained in con­tact with Yousef un­til 2010 when his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Son of Ha­mas: A Grip­ping Ac­count of Ter­ror, Be­trayal, Po­lit­i­cal In­trigue, and Un­think­able Choices, was pub

lished.

No­con­tact

“I had given them an idea what was com­ing,” he says. “But from that mo­ment I’ve had no con­tact.”

His fam­ily has faced per­se­cu­tion since his con­fes­sional emerged. But Yousef stands firmly over his decision and be­lieves that his ac­tions have saved lives.

“If we blame Ha­mas, we need

I don’t read the Bi­ble or go to church. I be­lieve that re­li­gion is a nec­es­sary evil. Just like the gov­ern­ment

also to blame the ide­ol­ogy that in­spires them. If we fight Ha­mas or any rad­i­cals or fun­da­men­tal­ist groups, we need to un­der­stand that we are fight­ing their ide­ol­ogy. Is­lam is their foun­da­tion. If we’re not aware of this, we in­crease the chance that ter­ror will win over peace.

“Is­lamic ide­ol­ogy is an ag­gres­sive and dan­ger­ous ide­ol­ogy, in­spired by Muham­mad, the founder of Is­lam. It’s very clear from Is­lamic texts and from the Qur’an that it is a vi­o­lent ide­ol­ogy. Peo­ple who say that it is peace­ful, they have no clue. It’s a sick re­li­gion, born in a sick man’s mind.”

A mono­lith

But surely Is­lam isn’t sim­ply a mono­lith? What about the newer, fem­i­nist voices within the faith? What about Taqwa­core punk mu­sic and other Is­lamic sub­cul­tures?

“At­tempts to re­form are great. But there can be no re­form while there is no sep­a­ra­tion of mosque and state. In Is­lamic coun­tries, non-Mus­lims have to pay a tax to live there. Chris­tian­ity has evolved. Ju­daism has evolved. Is­lam is still in the sev­enth cen­tury.

“Mus­lims have to re­alise this is a bunch of crap. For as long as they be­lieve that this is the word of God, that it is good for ev­ery time, that it is good for ev­ery civ­i­liza­tion, they will never be com­pat­i­ble with life nowa­days.”

Re­ally? But Yousef has pre­vi­ously de­scribed his fa­ther as a good man.

“That is how the con­fu­sion hap­pens. There are good Mus­lims, just do­ing their thing, rais­ing their fam­ily. They take care of their wife and mem­bers of their so­ci­ety.

“They’re pro­duc­tive. They’re well ed­u­cated. But my fa­ther’s project is an Is­lamic project. He had peo­ple killed. Just as Muham­mad car­ried a sword and in­vaded other civil­i­sa­tions and took women and took prop­erty. Th­ese are the facts. But for me there is noth­ing darker than hat­ing a hu­man be­ing. I want to choose a dif­fer­ent way.”

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