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He was tortured, held in prisons, lived as a secret agent and was renounced by his family. Yet, a Hamas agent-turned-Israeli undercover informant still hopes to return home one day.
Addressing a crowd at the Hebrew Order of David in Orchards, Joburg, on Wednesday, Mosab Hassan Yousef described how he went from being a Hamas agent to working undercover for the Israeli security forces.
Yousef is the son of a Hamas founder and leader, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, and, despite having been on both sides of the conflict, he said he did not “consider himself an expert at all”.
“At 17, I decided to become a terrorist,” said Yousef, who then went and bought some guns. Although they did not work, he was arrested by Israeli soldiers.
Despite being beaten up in the back of a military van and then deprived of sleep for days, he said he understands the Israelis’ anger and why they acted the way they did.
“Sometimes you need to step into somebody’s shoes to know how they came to a decision,” he said.
Yousef said he believed much of the conflict in the Middle East was a result of the inability of both sides to look at each other in a different way, and he hoped to return to a peaceful Israel one day.
In 2010 he published an autobiography entitled Son of Hamas, in which he detailed his undercover work with the Israeli security agency, Shin Bet, from 1997 to 2007.
Yousef said he had ultimately decided to become an Israeli informant when he “started to question the nature of his father’s business” and likened it to being the son of a Mafia boss.
His work with the Israeli security forces apparently saved several lives through the arrests of suicide bombers and thwarted assassination attempts.
Yousef appealed to the audience to understand how a boy growing up in Palestine would end up wanting to join Hamas.
He said he was nine when Israeli soldiers came to his home and arrested his father. He asked them where they were taking him and they said they were taking him away for a “short time”.
“I waited outside [for him] for five minutes, 15 minutes, two hours, [but] he came back a year later,” said Yousef.
He now lives in the US, after he was granted political asylum there.