Born Into Extremism
The battle against terror groups feels like an uphill struggle with there always seemingly being fresh new recruits to replace the ones they lose. War has been waged on these groups in the Middle East for nearly as long as they have existed, and Israel has found itself in the middle of the conflict, being the prime target of many organizations seeking to purge the land. The Hamas is one such organization, and while it may officially be labelled as a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist group, most governments recognize its members to be terrorists. They’ve become especially prominent around the turn of the century, claiming responsibility for dozens upon dozens of terror attacks (mostly suicide bombers) that ultimately claimed hundreds of innocent lives in Israel. The internal Israeli Security Agency, otherwise known as the Shin Bet, has been at odds with Hamas for quite some time and has had many successes against its members. However, few things compare to when they recruited the oldest son of a founding member, who ended up working for Israeli intelligence for over a decade. His name is Mosab Hassan Yousef, and in Son of Hamas he reveals his story to the world.
Before reviewing the book itself I would like to point out that in 2014 Mosab Hassan Yousef made a movie in collaboration with his former handler from Shin Bet, titled The Green Prince. It’s an autobiographical documentary where the two explain in great depth who Mosab is as a person and what it was like for him to work with Israeli intelligence for a decade while betraying the values of the world he was born and brought up in. I have to stress that the movie is a veritable treasure trove of first-hand information you wouldn’t get anywhere else and complements the book magnificently. Whether or not you’re going to read the book, I still highly recommend you watch it for its realistic and honest exposition of Hamas and Israeli intelligence.
Additionally it ought to be noted that an extra chapter was added to the book some time after it was published. In it, Mosab was able to discuss the identity of his former handler, Gonen Ben Yitzhak, and how he came to his rescue when Homeland Security was about to deport him back to Jordan where he likely wouldn’t have survived for very long.
Growing Up an Insider
In Son of Hamas, Mosab basically examines his life in a chronological order and tells it like a story while interjecting his own thoughts and observations throughout the pages. Structure-wise, it’s pretty much what we’ve become accustomed to when reading autobiographies. What really hooks you in is the quality of the content, with Mosab expertly focusing on the important events that shaped him and the main lessons he learned in his earlier days. He doesn’t drag his feet around nor does he ever waste time discussing inconsequential events. Virtually every single sentence brings us some new knowledge about him or the Hamas organization.
Indeed, even when he discusses smaller events from his early childhood he helps us understand the society he lived in, the morals and values his family aspired to, and basically how most people in his situation see the world. Amongst many things he discusses how he saw his father as a God-like authority figure, the importance he held in the community, the beliefs everyone was taught from an early age (including some surprising ones, like collaboration with Israel being the worst sin of all), and how he was always groomed to assume the family’s legacy. Basically, he provides unique and previously unseen insight on a domain carefully shrouded in secrecy.
The Turning Point
Without lingering too much on his childhood and adolescence, Mosab moves to what is basically so far the second part of his life: when he started collaborating with Israel. Without giving anything away, he talks about an event that pushed him to prepare and commit an act of violence and his pre-emptive arrest at the hands of Shin Bet. He goes in lots of vivid detail about his interrogation, how he felt and how the investigators’ approach affected him psychologically. At the beginning, he only agreed to work for them so that he would be released, actually planning to kill his handler the first chance he got. With his acceptance, they sent him into prison where he was tasked with getting closer to some more important Hamas members.
The prison was the big moment for Mosab when his faith in Hamas started to crumble. He witnessed the horrors that happened behind closed curtains, often in the form of brutal torture and murder. Because the Hamas had its own section with its own guards, it enforced its own rules. Mosab discusses that micro-society in as much detail as you would expect, once again providing unique and valuable insight into some well-kept secrets.
I don’t want to give too much away about the journey Mosab has been through, so I’ll just say that from that point on he recounts the many impactful events that marked his work with Shin Bet over the years, how he slowly switched over to their side, what it meant for him to betray his family, why he did it, how the bond between him and his handler, Gonen, became tighter than that of family, and so on and so forth. He leaves no stone unturned or pertinent details aside, to the point where you likely won’t be able to think of any questions for him by the end of it. All in all, it makes for an incredibly informative, surprising, gripping and irreplaceable account of both Hamas and Israeli intelligence from the inside.
A Priceless Book
All things considered, I believe Mosab Hassan Yousef is a person who deserves to have his story heard around the world. He went through hell and back passing through one deadly gauntlet after the next, bravely stood up to his own world and people in order to save human lives, faced the shame of betraying his family, and basically sacrificed himself for the greater good in one way or another time and time again. On top of being eloquently-written, solidly-structured, and a priceless collection of information on the conflict between Hamas and Israel from a unique perspective, Son of Hamas is also a testament that peace would be possible between the Israeli and Palestinians, if only there were many more people like Mosab and Gonen.
I strongly recommend this book to anyone who has even the slightest interest in any of what’s written above; you won’t find anything like it elsewhere.
Watch an hour-long interview where Mosab Hassan Yousef and Gonen Ben Yitzhak discuss in great detail the work they performed together and its implications for Jewish-Palestinian relations.