Mosab Hassan Yousef
Mosab Hassan Yousef has become estranged from his Palestinian family after outing himself as a long-time spy for Israeli intelligence, and does not regret his service.
Two years ago I lost my family because they did not like what I did, and it seems that God gave me a much better family and a much bigger family," he told a packed crowd at a Thursday talk held at Mount Kisco's Holiday Inn.
Yousef is the author of "Son of Hamas," which details his accounts throughout his adult life in the West Bank.
At the talk, sponsored by Chabad of Bedford, Yousef described what it was like to have the trust of both Israel's intelligence and terrorist group Hamas, which his father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, co-founded in the mid 1980's.
Yousef, who immigrated to the United States in 2007 before exposing his status, described his ideological conversion to Israel's side as a process that happened over several years.
At the event, security was a concern, with Mount Kisco police and Westchester County police providing detail, and with Yousef requesting that his picture not be taken by reporters. Turnout was more than 300, according to Bedford Chabad Rabbi Arik Wolf.
Yousef started off by explaining why radicalization happens, looking at it through the lens of his childhood. When he was a boy, his father was detained by Israeli forces for 16 months but was told otherwise at first.
They took him and I waited outside. Five minutes, one hour, two hours in the cold weather, and my father did not come back," he said, also noting that at the time he did not know about his father's connection with the group.
I had political reasons, national reasons and most importantly, ideological reasons, to hate the state of Israel," he said.
When he was 17, Yousef turned to violence, and attempted to get ammunition but was caught and sent to an Israeli jail for three months, where he said he was tortured. Eventually, an Israeli officer offered him a chance to join the intelligence, which he initially took up because he figured that it would lead to a chance to take revenge.
His perspective changed once he learned more about Hamas. Left in jail for a longer period in order to avoid giving away a hint of his planned collaboration, Yousef learned about Hamas prisoners torturing inmates suspected of helping Israel.
Now, I start asking myself this question: what’s the difference between Hamas torture and Israel torture?”
At the talk, Yousef felt that Israel's torture methods were understandable because they were trying to save lives. He feels that Hamas, in contrast, was not justified.
Hamas was torturing in order to kill more people," he said.
Coming to such a realization of Hamas' tactics would impact him with regards to his identity and culture.
Will I go against all that, just to know the truth, and who cares about the truth, anyway?” he said about looking at the perspective.
Yousef was released and spent several years assisting Israel's intelligence and helping to foil plots. At one point, he noted that on a single day he would spend time with his father, his Israeli handler and even attending Bible study with a growing interest in Christianity.
He began seeing things through a humanitarian perspectives, recalling anecdotes that steered him along this path, including a reading of Jesus' sermon on the mound and in giving money to a homeless Israeli.
My first motivation was revenge. My second motivation was curiosity and knowing the truth. Now my motivation is to love my enemy.”
Yousef's motivation to help Israel and foil terrorist plots was humanitarian.
“I had to promise myself to fight the real enemy, the unseen enemy that most people don’t see, and keep this fight not for the sake of Israel but for the sake of humanity," he said, also noting that he is "very honored" to serve Israel.
Elaborate Cover Up
Yousef's role was known by only a few in Israel's intelligence, he explained. While spying, he continued to have the trust of Hamas and its operations. In the meantime, Israeli soldiers were unaware that he was helping them.
They had no idea who I was," recalling that they would insult him.
His help had to be hidden, even to the point of staging activities to make him look like a terrorist.
In one example Yousef recalled, he discussed helping Israel foil a plot involving five people who planned to act as suicide bombers. He had them lodged in a hotel and stored their explosive-laden car in his garage. Convincing Israeli intelligence to send forces to arrest the group rather than bombing them, his cover seemed to be blown because they named him as a supporter.
In reaction, he said the decision was made to label Yousef as wanted and stage a manhunt, without letting Israeli soldiers know this was the motivation.
We had to play a big game for everybody, much bigger than Hollywood games," he said.
The result was an attack on his house and his seeking of further "protection" from Hamas, which helped Israel lern more about the group in finding its hiding places. Yousef, however, had to be jailed in connection to the matter to avoid having his cover blown.
We saved many human lives," Yousef said of his service.
Views on Middle East Issues
Yousef waded into a sensitive topic: Muslim and Jewish relations.
I know what I’m going to say is politically incorrect, but I have to say the truth," Yousef told the crowd.
He continued by saying that the God of Islam does not like the Jewish people, saying “it’s obvious and clear in the Koran.”
They are not willing to know the truth and when you confront them with the truth, they rather to stick their head in the sand because they know that there are consequences," he said.
He added, “Muslims are peaceful people in general, they’re not terrorists. But they’re identified with Islam because Islam is their only identify.”
Yousef also expressed concern about the growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, saying that the brotherhood helped to launch Hamas.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy is to create a front to do the job of the mother movement," he said.
Taking questions from the audience, he was asked about whether a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians is viable.
“There is no room for two states in that location and I believe it’s too late for a Palestinian state," he said, in reference to a rejected proposal in the late 1940s from the United Nations to create one. He added that that while Palestians can rule themselves and take care of their daily lives, they should not have their own army and open borders, which would endanger Israel.
Yousef's hope for peace in the region is by allowing for Palestinians to have peace of mind and to have them face responsibility.
I believe that peace is not a state of political borders," he said. "It’s a state of mind and many human beings live in free countries and peaceful countries, but they still lack peace.”