Sunday, November 13, 2011

Inside Hamas: An insider's story


Son of Hamas
By Mosab Hassan Yousef
Publisher: Jaico Books,
Price: Rs 295

When an important member of Hamas — a terrorist outfit that controls Gaza Strip and is fanatically committed to the destruction of Israel — writes a book, it cannot be ignored. And, it most certainly cannot be brushed aside when the author is the son of one of the founders of the organisation. It is not always that an important Hamas member decides to spill the beans and speak out against the outfit in a manner that would invite not just condemnation from within but also a real threat to life. That Mosab Hassan Yousef gathered the courage to do is an act of valour. But his act also in many ways demonstrates the rot that has set into Hamas that began its journey as a group dedicated to the welfare of Muslims in the midst of an overpowering Israeli presence.

Yousef will have his critics point out that he has betrayed not just the cause but also his religion which is so deeply connected with that cause, because he shed Islam and converted to Christianity. That the religious transformation should have come alongside his growing scepticism of the organisation, the critics would add, is ample evidence of a larger conspiracy by the West to wean away Islam’s committed foot soldiers. But it’s a personal choice that Yousef made, and not in haste. What led to that decision and to his renunciation of militancy are what the book is all about.

In giving up Hamas, terrorism and the religion he was born into, Yousef not just discarded an ideology or a faith, but also snapped an even more personal link — with his family which he adored. His father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, who arguably remains the most popular leader the organisation has had, was also his idol and mentor, inculcating in him in the early years the virtues of compassion. Until the very end, Yousef never believed that his father had a direct hand in the various massacres that Hamas has been involved in. But the fact that the Sheikh justified the killings as appropriate punishment to the Israelis and those who supported it did confuse him. How could a man who never harmed an insect, he reasoned, condone the killings of human beings? He never found the answer, and that perhaps contributed to his growing rift with the system that he was brought up to believe as being the way of Islam.

Yousef recounts the time when his father was taken away from home for no apparent reason other than being a respected teacher of Islam who lectured the gathering at a mosque on the need for goodness, and released months later, brutally tortured but not broken. The lessons that Yousef learned from the episode were many, the most important being that his fellow citizens and relatives could not be trusted. They fawned over the family when his father was home but turned strangers when the family lived through a financial crisis while the Sheikh was held captive by Israeli forces.

Yousef recounts with distaste the extremism Hamas displayed not just in its militant conduct but also in the personal space. He recollects an amusing incident when fanatic members would bring down a wooden partition in front of the television screen to block viewers from seeing it every time an advertisement came showing a woman without a head scarf.

Yousef also provides a scathing account of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s contribution to the continuing unrest in the region. He recalls, for instance, the time when the Israeli leadership had offered all of Gaza Strip, a huge part of West Bank and the entire East Jerusalem for a proposed Palestinian homeland. It was a deal that had surprised even Israelis who believed too much was being given, but Arafat turned it down. That effectively quashed an opportunity for the Palestinians, Yousef says.

Yousef shatters Arafat’s carefully constructed international image of a peacenik when he remarks, “Arafat and the other Palestinian Authority leaders had been determined to spark another intifada. They had been planning it for months, even as Arafat and (then Israeli Prime Minister) Ehud Barak had been meeting with US President Bill Clinton at Camp David. They had simply been waiting for a suitable triggering pretext.” Having met Arafat, attended meetings where he was present and been in the know of things that went on behind the curtains, Yousef’s impressions are not the fulmination of a fertile mind.

The disillusionment became so acute that Yousef accepted an offer to work for Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency, as an undercover agent. It was not money that tempted him, nor was it the belief that he would remain forever protected; after all, Shin Bet could not prevent the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Right-wing Israeli radical, despite having the information for a long time. Yousef’s move resulted, however, in two benefits: One, his father was finally safe from the Israelis; and, two, the gates of the West opened up for him. It is a reflection on the depths Hamas and the Palestinian leadership had sunk that Yousef found his Israeli handlers more trustworthy and genuinely concerned about his and his family’s welfare. They also let him go after he decided to quit spying and lead a normal life abroad.

Even as he wrote the book, Yousef felt pangs of guilt for those that he had seemingly betrayed — not the Hamas or the Palestinian cause but his parents and siblings. He confesses to them, “Please understand it was not you I chose to betray, but your understanding of what it means to be a hero... I paid, you paid, and yet the bills of war and peace continue to come.” In dedicating the book to his family and to the victims of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Yousef has shown in his small way the road to peace. The point is: Is there anyone willing to walk it?

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