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Son Of Hamas, Mosab Hassan Yousef, To Speak At SD Jewish Book Fair


We'll speak to Mosab Hassan Yousef, the eldest son of the founder of the political organization Hamas. He now has political asylum in the U.S. and works for peace. He's speaking at the San Diego Jewish Book Fair on Wednesday, November 3 about his book, "Son of Hamas: A Gripping Account of Terror, Betrayal, Political Intrigue and Unthinkable Choices."

Mosab Hassan Yousef was raised in a militant Palestinian family, was imprisoned by the Israelis, and then persuaded to spy for Israel. But that wasn't the end of his personal transformation in both religion and residence. He's here to talk about his new book and his appearance at the San Diego Jewish Book Fair.


Mosab Hassan Yousef is the author of the new book, "Son of Hamas: A Gripping Account of Terror, Betrayal, Political Intrigue, and Unthinkable Choices." He will be speaking at the San Diego Jewish Book Fair tomorrow night. The event is sold out.

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MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. If the conflict in the Middle east seems set in stone with all the parties acting out the parts they were born to play, then the life story of Mosab Hassan Yousef emerges as a remarkably radical journey. He was born in Palestine, the eldest son of one of the original founders of Hamas, sheikh Hassan Yousef. But Mosab Hussein Yousef was recently granted asylum in the United States because of the choices he made in his life. He is author of the new book, Son of Hamas, a gripping tale of terror, political intrigue and unthinkable choices. He's going to be here in San Diego at the San Diego Jewish book fair, and Mosab, welcome to These Days.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you for speaking with us today.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, Mosab, what was it like to grow up in your household? How connected was Hamas to your daily life?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: Yes, I was born in the heart of Hamas leadership. And as most people know about Hamas, it's a terrorist organization. But Hamas in the eyes of its members and its people it is not a terrorist organization to them because they believe that this is a way that they liberate their country. And I believed those lies for a long time and thought that Hamas was fighting for the rights -- today I understand that Hamas is causing damage to the Palestinian code more than anyone else. Sole I grew up in an environment of violence, environment of persecution. It wasn't the best environment for a child to grow up, but today I am grateful that I have my freedom and am out of that situation.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Hamas is also a social organization too, providing help to Palestinians. Did you also see that side of the organization?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: Yes. This is the most difficult part. That Hamas has a human trait. And other terrorists organizations, when they have the human trait, it's very hard to fight them. And it's easy for people to believe in their ways. And this is why today the international community is having a big problem dealing with Hamas, because any move they take against the movement, Palestinians civilians were terrified.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. Now you had an encounter with an -- and you were imprisoned, tell us a lot bit about that.

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: I was arrested when I was 18 years old. In fact for the first time, I was kidnapped by settlers when I was 11. Then I was arrested again when I was 16 for a few days. And finally, I was arrested for 16 months when I was 18 years old. I was tortured and I lost my school for that reason. And we saw the Israeli soldiers shooting our friends, they shoot at me several times. I almost got killed once in a cemetery while an Israeli settler was trying to kill me. So it wasn't the best memories. We see them as an occupation and I had all the reasons, the I'd logical reasons and the political reasons to view them as my enemies.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But in your book, son of Hamas, you write about getting disillusioned with the cycle of violence in the Middle East. When did you start to notice that disillusionment?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: Yes, this is a long journey of transformation. It didn't happen over one night. Everything started to change when the Israeli intelligence which is like the FBI here in the United States, when they offered me to work for them, and I had a plan to try to infiltrate and try to track them from the inside. And each during the time when I was in prison, I found that Hamas didn't have the security, and they were brutalizing their own members. The real nature of Hamas and the real nature of Islam, which finally I -- instead of infiltrating the Shin Bet, we became friends and after that, we started to work together. My father's movement, I wasn't working against my people. I was working against the violence and trying to stop all types of killing that was happening. .

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Mosab Hassan Yousef about his new book, son of Hamas, a gripping account of terror, betrayal, political intrigue and unthinkable choices. And Mosab, I think that is probably one of the most startling things about the book is your choice to give information to the Israelis about the operations of Hamas. That must have been a very wrenching decision for you. How did you come to that?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: Yes, it was very difficult. My dad trusted me. Of his movement also trusted me. In fact, they were expecting that I would become one of the leaders at some time. I was president of the Islamic freedom movement. So I was -- people had huge expectations for me. It wasn't an easy choice to do, but I knew all the time that I wasn't working against my people. I was working against violence. In fact, I saved my father's life, if I wasn't working for the -- my dad would be killed ten times in a row. And many other Palestinian leaders, I think they are not more than victims of their own, victims of their own religion and belief system. So I did what was necessary to stop the violence, to stop the killing, to stop the bombers, who was heading to kill inspect people who had nothing to do with this conflict.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How much danger were you Mosab? This sounds like an incredibly dangerous decision that you made.

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: Yeah, absolutely. You know, any -- they don't tolerate anyone who collaborates with Israel, and if I was discovered, by any chance I would be killed in the street. It was very difficult, and I understood the dangers, the danger they was facing. But what really motivated my -- every time that I knew about the suicide bombers and we stopped them, that was enough motivation to take the risk.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, I said one of the really startling things in your book is the fact that you chose to give information to the Israelis about the operations of Hamas. The other startling thing is about your decision to convert to Christianity. You in essence renounced Islam and you also said that you didn't think the Jewish religion had any answers for you. Why did you decide to convert to Christianity?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: Yes, in fact I did not convert from a religion to another religion. Christianity to me is not a religion. To many people, it is. But I was fascinated about the personality of Jesus Christ. His principles of unconditional love unconditional forgiveness for all mankind was really fascinating. And I adopted those principles in my life and I got the chance to know the philosophy of Christ and his greatness of being with all kinds of people, with lots of patience and tolerance. So simply I learned forgiveness, I learned love, I learned tolerance. And he became my teacher at some time. And after that, he became my God, my highest authority today is Christ. So simply, it wasn't that Christians were better than Muslims so I became a Christian. Or even Christianity as a religion was a better choice than Islam as a religion. I think religions are not the way to heaven. I think our way to heaven is love through Christ toward all mankind.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, how did you come in contact with Christianity?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: I was invited to a Bible study when I was working for the Shin Bet, my enemies became my friends, and my friends became my enemies. And I came across a verse that says love your enemies. And to me, that meant them. Because particularly, my friends enemies became my friends. And that's what came to my attention, and I started to take Christianity in a serious way.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, in the preface to your book, son of Hamas, is a letter to your family, and it's -- in a way, you are asking for understanding, you are in a way asking for forgiveness. What has your decision to convert to Christianity and to give information about Hamas done to your relationship with your family?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: You know, this is a huge embarrassment for my family. They simply lead the movement. And my family's business is Islamic revolution. And my dad worked for more than 40 years to build this Islamic revolution in the Middle East and in the world. So to come against your own father is not easy, and it's very, very embarrassing to somebody like my father, to my family. And unfortunately, me and my family today, we live in two different worlds. My understanding is totally different than their understanding. My mission is totally different than theirs. So it's very difficult for them to see where I'm coming from. All I could ask for forgiveness at this level, because it's very hard for them to understand. But I am sure that down the road, they will get the chance to know why I did that. And I am sure that they will start to understand this today.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Mosab, now you are living in the United States, you've sought and been granted asylum in the U.S. Are you worried about your safety here?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: To be honest with you, my life has been in danger always. And this is not the first time I'm facing risk. All I can say, if we do it for a noble reason, to bring peace, to give the needs of a nation a good example of tolerance, and loving each other, forgiving each other, I think it's worth the risk. And I don't regret that. I'm here in California and we're enjoying the weather, enjoying talking to people. We communicate with them on a daily basis. There are -- and people ask questions. And this is really important that people start to question. What happened and why did this happen this way? So this is a very good beginning to encourage the new generation to start to think, what happened in my life, and when they learn this, it will make more sense to them. So we are not in a position to think about this is it dangerous and this is not dangerous. You drive your car every day, and it's dangerous. An accident can happen. So let's take the risk for the most important things.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now what is it that you want people to take away from your story?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: Most important thing that the biggest enemies of the Middle East are the enemies of shame, guilt, and fear. And this is how the powerful government controls the people of the middle east. They have natural resources and everything, but they still are behind. And this is the time for them to understand that they cannot be afraid. And they can't -- they have to stand for the truth no matter what. In my book, the main message to the Middle East that I lost everything, I lost my family, and I put my life in danger. But it was for my principles and my principles matter the most. So now there are a wonderful new generation coming from the Middle East. And hopefully this will show them a way to encourage, and not to worry about consequences. And to take a stand for the truth if they believe in it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Mosab, my final question to you, do you think that any members of your family will read this book? Son of Hamas?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: Oh, yes. In fact, since son of Hamas, we had a difficulty to publish in the Arab world, we provide a free version on the Internet in Arabic. It's translated. So my family would be able to read it, and millions of people in the Middle East would be able to read it for free.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you so much for speaking with us. And inn joy your stay in San Diego.

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: Thank you so much. Thank you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with Mosab Hassan Yousef, he's the author of the new book, son of Hamas, a gripping account of terror, betrayal, political intrigue, and unthinkable choices. He's in San Diego to speak at the San Diego Jewish book fair. If you'd like to comment, you can go on line, Days. You've been listening to These Days on KPBS.

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