Son of Hamas
"Peace in the Middle East has been the holy grail of diplomats, prime ministers, and presidents for more than five decades. Every new face on the world stage thinks he or she is going to be the one to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. And each one fails just as miserably and completely as those who have come before." So begins Son of Hamas, Mosab Hassan Yousef's narrative about his life as "a son of that region and of that conflict ... a child of Islam and the son of an accused terrorist ... a follower of Jesus." Born and raised in the West Bank region of Israel, memories of the massive graveyard in his town and his father's devotion to the Muslim faith fight for space in his mind. Politics and bloodshed soon contended. As a means to buck Israeli occupation and to instill a kind of order to their chaotic Palestinian society, in 1986, when Yousef was eight years old, his father and six others formed the radical Islamic group Hamas.
As a boy, Yousef threw rocks to prove himself as the son of a Hamas leader, yet he later kept himself from the fray, an objective insider to the struggles of his family. He saw the rise and arming of Hamas, bloody street battles, and faction clashes. His words weigh heavy with the frustration and grief of not-so-normal life in the Palestinian territories. He saw, too, the futility of his father's organization: "In short, we were becoming our own worst enemies." Arrested at eighteen, Yousef details his time in prison and the injustices he witnessed; hoping for reprieve, he agreed to become an agent for Shin Bet, the Israeli security service. He went undercover upon release, rising in the ranks of Hamas while collecting intelligence to help destroy it. And then he met Jesus.
Yousef is honest with his early hatred, the product of cycles of cultural violence and poverty. Yet because of Jesus and through his work with Shin Bet—with Israeli Jews—he realized how those he once thought were his enemies really are just men. Yousef's hope for peace is evident in how he writes, with a fair look at everyone's humanity, even Yassar Arafat's. What we in the West may think of as a "good guy/bad guy" conflict, through faceless headlines and statistics, becomes men and women struggling not against one another, but against ideology. Yousef articulates it to his Israeli security friends: "'We're fighting a war that can't be won with arrests, interrogations, and assassinations. Our enemies are ideas, and ideas don't care about incursions and curfews. We can't blow up an idea with a [tank]. You are not our problem, and we are not yours. We're all like rats trapped in a maze.'"
But in that maze, Yousef could see the way God was drawing him. A chance encounter put a New Testament in his hand. Supernatural protection confirmed a sovereign God's leading. His respect for his father is deep still, and his gratefulness for his Muslim heritage strong, but he ultimately found truth in Jesus—and walked away from father and family for it. What he discovered was the real challenge to loving your enemies and where ultimately peace will be found: "It is my greatest hope that, in telling my own story, I will show my own people—Palestinian followers of Islam who have been used by corrupt regimes for hundreds of years—that the truth can set them free."
Jessica A. Kent is a writer, musician, traveler and coffee drinker from Albany, NY.