The first half of his memoir describes a childhood in Ramallah marked by close familial ties and the Israeli occupation. He describes a kind and unusual Muslim father who cooks dinner, treats his mother well, and cares for his neighbors. An imam trained in Jordan, Sheikh Hassan Yousef rises to prominence in their hometown, and in 1986—along with six other men including the wheelchair-bound cleric from Gaza, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin—forms Hamas at a secret meeting in Hebron. The first Palestinian Intifada—or uprising—breaks out the following year. Mosab did his part, throwing stones at Israeli settlers and army vehicles. "Most people heard about Hamas after Hamas started carrying out terrorist attacks," he says now, speaking near his agent's home here in Nashville. "Hamas started out as an idea. Let's say a noble idea—resisting occupation."This fits with other things I have read about the Hamas founders. They were all upright, moral men, who cared deeply for the welfare of their neighbors. From its inception Hamas has been both a military organization and a sort of social welfare agency, supplying food to the hungry and protection to the vulnerable. But from its inception Hamas has also always been very intolerant of dissent and capable of the most brutal violence. It has, as my wife once described it, a village mentality, with kindness and support for neighbors but hostility toward outsiders and a narrow-minded view of what is acceptable behavior. Yosef describes how its violence toward anyone suspected of collaboration slowly turned him against Hamas, and made him partial to the message of peace and love he found in the New Testament.
We like to think that the fomenters of war are bad men, but the reality is much more complicated than this.
Among other things, Yosef revealed to the Israelis that the Second Intifada did not break out spontaneously over Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount. It was organized in advance by Arafat, whose own guards led the first riots, to further his own political ambitions. It is important to realize that ethnic violence may be part of ancient hatreds, but it usually does not spontaneously spiral into major conflicts. When that happens, it usually turns out that ambitious political leaders (e.g., Slobodan Milosevic) are behind it.