CALIFORNIA – A moment before beginning his dinner, Masab, son of West Bank Hamas leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef, glances at the friend who has accompanied him to the restaurant where we met. They whisper a few words and then say grace, thanking God and Jesus for putting food on their plates.
It takes a few seconds to digest this sight: The son of a Hamas MP who is also the most popular figure in that extremist Islamic organization in the West Bank, a young man who assisted his father for years in his political activities, has become a rank-and-file Christian. A few seconds later, he is savoring his meal, explaining that he hasn’t been eating much recently because of financial problems. During the past week he has been living with the friend, a Christian, of course, whom he met at church. “Without him,” he says, “I would have become homeless.”
The younger Yousef is well aware of the implications of this interview, and how it will likely offend his family, as well as of the slim chance that he will be able to return to Ramallah one day. But apparently he is on a crusade of his own. “I know that I’m endangering my life and am even liable to lose my father, but I hope that he’ll understand this and that God will give him and my family the patience and willingness to open their eyes to Jesus and to Christianity. Maybe one day I’ll be able to return to Palestine and to Ramallah together with Jesus, in the Kingdom of God.”
“I’m now called Joseph,” he says at the outset.
“As a child I grew up in a very religious family, on the principle of hatred of Israelis. The first time I encountered them was at about the age of 10, when soldiers entered our home and arrested my father. Until then I had never been separated from him. We didn’t know anything about the circumstances of his arrest. His membership in Hamas was a secret matter, and we certainly didn’t think he was one of its founders. I didn’t understand anything about politics or religion. I only knew that the Israeli army had arrested my father repeatedly, and for me he was everything: a good, loving man who would do anything for me. He took care of us, bought us gifts, gave of himself, whereas the soldiers entered our house and took him away from me. In high school I studied sharia, Islamic law. In 1996, when I was only 18, I was arrested by the Israel Defense Forces because I was the head of the Islamic Society in my high school. It’s a kind of youth movement of the organization. And my process of awakening began.”
Masab-Joseph: “Until then I knew Hamas through my father, who lived a very modest and loving life. At first I really admired the organization, mainly because I admired my father so much. But during the 16 months I spent in prison I was exposed to the true face of Hamas. It’s a negative organization. As simple as that. A fundamentally bad organization. I sat in Megiddo Prison and suddenly I understood who the real Hamas was. Their leaders in prison received better conditions, such as the best food, as well as more family visits and towels for the shower. These people have no morals, they have no integrity. But they aren’t as stupid as Fatah, which steals in broad daylight in front of everyone and is immediately suspected of corruption. [Hamas people] receive money in dishonest ways, invest it in secret places, and outwardly maintain a simple lifestyle. Sooner or later they will use this money and screw the people.
“Nobody knows them and how they operate as well as I do.
How were you exposed to Christianity?
“It began about eight years ago. I was in Jerusalem and I received an invitation to come and hear about Christianity. Out of curiosity I went. I was very enthusiastic about what I heard. I began to read the Bible every day and I continued with religion lessons. I did it in secret, of course. I used to travel to the Ramallah hills, to places like the Al Tira neighborhood, and to sit there quietly with the amazing landscape and read the Bible. A verse like “Love thine enemy” had a great influence on me. At this stage I was still a Muslim and I thought that I would remain one. But every day I saw the terrible things done in the name of religion by those who considered themselves ‘great believers.’ I studied Islam more thoroughly and found no answers there. I reexamined the Koran and the principals of the faith and found how it is mistaken and misleading. The Muslims borrowed rituals and traditions from all the surrounding religions.”
But they all did that.
He doesn’t respond to this comment directly. “I feel that Christianity has several aspects. It’s not only a religion but a faith. I now see God through Jesus and can tell about him for days on end, whereas the Muslims won’t be able to say anything about God. I consider Islam a big lie. The people who supposedly represent the religion admired Mohammed more than God, killed innocent people in the name of Islam, beat their wives and don’t have any idea what God is. I have no doubt that they’ll go to Hell. I have a message for them: There is only one way to Paradise – the way of Jesus who sacrificed himself on the cross for all of us.”
Four years ago, he decided to convert. He says that nobody in his family knew about it. “Only those Christians with whom I met and spent time knew about my decision. For years I helped my father, the Hamas leader, and he didn’t know that I had converted, only that I had Christian friends.”
You miss Israel?
“I respect Israel and admire it as a country. I’m opposed to a policy of killing civilians, or using them as a means to an end, and I understand that Israel has a right to defend itself. The Palestinians, if they don’t have an enemy to fight, will fight each other. In about 20 years from now you’ll remember what I’m telling you, the conflict will be among various groups within Hamas. They’re already beginning to quarrel over control of the money.”
He does not conceal his abhorrence of everything representing the human surroundings in which he grew up: the nation, the religion, the organization.
“You Jews should be aware: You will never, but never have peace with Hamas. Islam, as the ideology that guides them, will not allow them to achieve a peace agreement with the Jews. They believe that tradition says that the Prophet Mohammed fought against the Jews and that therefore they must continue to fight them to the death. They have to take revenge against anyone who did not agree to accept the Prophet Mohammed, like the Jews who are seen in the Koran as monkeys and the sons of pigs. They speak in terms of historical rights that were taken from them. In the view of Hamas, peace with Israel contradicts sharia and the Koran, and the Jews have no right to remain in Palestine.”
Is that the justification for the suicide attacks?
“More than that. An entire society sanctifies death and the suicide terrorists. In Palestinian culture a suicide terrorist becomes a hero, a martyr. Sheikhs tell their students about the ‘heroism of the shaheeds’ and that causes the young people to imitate the suicide bombers, in order to achieve glory. I’ll give you an example. I once met a young man named Dia Tawil. He was a quiet boy, an outstanding student. Not a Muslim extremist and not radical in his ideas against the Israelis. I never heard extreme statements from him. He didn’t even come from a religious family: His father was a communist and his sister was a journalist who didn’t wear a head covering. But Bilal Barghouti [one of the heads of the military arm of Hamas in the West Bank] didn’t need more than a few months to convince him to become a suicide terrorist.” (Tawil, 19, blew himself up in March 2001 next to a bus at the French Hill junction in Jerusalem; 31 people were wounded.)
“Do you know that Hamas was the first to use the weapon of suicide bombers against civilian targets?” he continues. “They are blind and ignorant. It’s true, there are good and bad people everywhere, but Hamas supporters don’t understand that they are led by a wicked and cruel group that brainwashes the children and gets them to believe that if they carry out a suicide attack they’ll get to Paradise. But no suicide bomber will find himself there and no virgins are waiting for them after they have carried out an attack. They have to understand that Islam was created by people and not by God.”
“Many people will hate me for this interview, but I’m telling them that I love all of them, even those who hate me. I invite all the people, including the terrorists among them, to open their hearts and believe. Now I’m trying to establish an international organization for young people that will teach about Christianity, love and peace in the territories, too. I would like to teach the young people how to love and forgive, because that’s the only way the two nations can overcome the mistakes of the past and live in peace.”
[…read the entire interview…]