Mosab Hassan Yousef stepped out of the airport terminal in a dark suit and tie, looking every inch the Hollywood darling. It’s perhaps not surprising then, that his close friend and the man who accompanied him on his trip to Israel this month, is producer and actor Sam Feuer. Feuer played the role of Yousef Romano in Steven Spielberg’s Munich, a movie about the aftermath of the Black September. Full of intrigue, spies, and clandestine operations—not to mention terror attacks on Israeli citizens—the plot of Spielberg’s cloak-and-dagger movie is not unlike Mosab’s own life as a secret agent.
Most people know the story by now, so I’ll be brief: In 1978, Mosab is born to the son of one of Hamas’ seven founders, Sheikh Hassan Yousef. Prepped to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a terrorist, Mosab starts asking questions until gradually, over the years, he becomes convinced that the ways of Hamas cannot be the truth. He subsequently converts to Christianity. He becomes an agent for Shin Bet. The intelligence he provides prevents terror attacks and leads to the incarceration of Hamas terrorists. In 2007, he leaves the West Bank in favor of the west coast. He gains political asylum in the US and remains there before coming back to Israel for a surprise visit last month.
Something about his life story—and indeed, certain aspects of his personality, including the fearless chutzpah with which he deceived Hamas—is distinctly reminiscent of Frank Abagnale, the real-life protagonist of yet another of Spielberg’s classics, Catch Me If You Can. But unlike the notorious confidence trickster, the former Shin Bet agent did not do what he did to advance his own interests (and neither did he forge millions of dollars worth of checks.) In his own words, Mosab Yousef did what he did in order “to save lives.”
Upon first meeting Yousef, there were a number of things I was curious to discover about his personality. Is he naïve or a realist? Is he extraordinarily foolish or extraordinarily brave? Has playing with fire become a way of life for him or does he take risks out of a sense of moral duty? More than once I was asked by other people, “Is he normal?” Considering the mind-boggling events that have shaped the life of Hamas’ prodigal son, the question is forgivable.
Normal or not, one thing about Mosab Yousef is that he is no politician. When asked whether he has any political aspirations, Yousef answers with a categorical “no.” Given his personality, his answer is hardly surprising. Yousef doesn’t seem to have a single trait that is conducive to being a politician. He has no sense of political correctness, and even though he is polite and refined, he lacks the diplomatic airs and graces of successful politicians. With utmost sincerity and an almost child-like earnestness, Yousef simply states the truth as he sees it.
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Photo credit: travelingCA