President Obama thinks Israel's policies are the biggest obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Hamas disagrees.
The problem for Hamas, writes Mosab Hassan Yousef, has never been "Israel's policies." The problem for Hamas is "Israel's very existence." Hamas, Yousef adds, is "animated by religious fervor and the theology of jihad," and it is "dedicated to the extinction of Israel."
He should know. He is the son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, one of Hamas's seven founders and perhaps its most popular leader. Not that long ago, it seemed inevitable that the son would follow in his father's footsteps. As he recounts in "Son of Hamas," a stunning and instructive memoir, at the age of 17 he "could think of nothing except joining the military wing of Hamas." But he came to see terrorism as immoral and repugnant. In reaction, he embarked on a remarkable journey.
That journey began in a West Bank village where his father, a religious and political leader before he helped create Hamas, believed that "Allah had given us the responsibility of eradicating the Jews ... though he personally had nothing against them."
The Israelis repeatedly imprisoned the father and, when the son procured weapons, they quickly threw him in jail as well. Both were dealt with harshly. But, in prison, Yousef was shocked to learn that Hamas leaders were even more brutal toward their own members. Those suspected of cooperating with Israelis were tortured - sometimes with needles inserted under their fingernails, sometimes with plastic food trays melted on their bare skin.
In 1996, Yousef was approached by the Shin Bet, Israel's domestic intelligence agency. He considered becoming a double agent - figuring he could mislead his handlers and perhaps get the chance to kill a few. Little by little, however, his views of Israelis changed: "They were human beings, and they treated me like a human being. Nearly every time we met, another stone in the foundation of my worldview crumbled."