I suppose I’m like many Americans who don’t understand the perpetually bubbling cauldron of politics, religion and conflict that is the Middle East. When unrest flares, as it is doing right now, I see the price of oil go up, and that affects my economic situation. This is perhaps a rather poor barometer to gauge regional stability but one I suspect many Americans use. I wonder if true peace can ever come to the region, but I have no idea how to resolve the centuries of conflict that makes the Middle East an enigma. What is clear is that the Arab world holds its convictions about Islam very deeply. Such deeply held convictions rarely change.
“Son of Hamas” is the story of Mosab Hassan Yousef, the oldest son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, one of the founders of the Hamas organization. Born in the West Bank village of Ramallah, Mosab comes from a family that is devoted to and has served Islam for generations. His father and grandfather were both respected imams, and since Mosab was the oldest son, his life’s trajectory seemed predetermined: serve the cause of Islam through Hamas. It was a destiny that Mosab eagerly embraced in his youth.
Hamas was born at a secret meeting that occurred in Hebron in 1986. The organization was the product of Palestinian frustration with the inaction of other groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood. The Hamas founders were ready to fight Israel and their objective was to unify and mobilize the Palestinians under the banner of Islam. At first they threw stones but by the time Mosab reached the age of 10, the violence escalated into the first Intifada or Palestinian uprising.
Shin Bet, the internal Israeli security service, knew that Sheikh Hassan Yousef was a Hamas leader, so he was arrested, tortured and questioned – a pattern that would continue. This treatment of his father by the Israelis fueled Mosab’s rage and strengthened his loyalty to Hamas. By 1996, he was 18 he had obtained a gun. The Israeli security forces arrested him and subjected him to the same treatment his father had endured. While he was imprisoned, he was approached about becoming an informant for the Shin Bet. Though a preposterous offer, Mosab agreed to cooperate in hopes of ending his ordeal, but to also position himself to attack his enemy from the inside as a double agent of sorts.
Because of his perceived willingness to cooperate with the Israelis, Mosab was moved to a detention camp – an immediate release would have aroused Hamas suspicions that he was a sympathizer. Detainees were grouped in camp by organizational affiliation, so Mosab went to the Hamas section where he was treated well by fellow detainees because they all knew and respected his father. Mosab discovered that torture at the hand of Hamas was a fixture of camp life. The Hamas security wing in the camp singled out some fellow detainees for no apparent reason, subjecting them to humiliating and brutal torture to extract confessions of wrongdoing. Even though Mosab was exempt from it, he saw the unfairness. An emotional turning point occurred when Mosab witnessed a fellow detainee risk death by clawing over razor wire and running towards the Israeli guard tower to get away from the brutality. This was not the Islam or Hamas to which Mosab had sworn loyalty.
When Mosab was released, he began meeting with his Shin Bet handler and discovered they were not animals but people who treated him with respect. Over the space of many months and meetings, the stones in the foundation of his worldview began crumbling. One day, he was in Jerusalem near the Damascus Gate, the most ornate of the seven ancient gates to the city and a popular tourist attraction. He encountered a British tourist who struck up a conversation with him, inviting him to a Christian study group that met in West Jerusalem. Curious, he attended and found it an engaging cultural experience. Having received a copy of the New Testament in Arabic, he read the words of Jesus to “love your enemies” and was amazed by this teaching. It felt like something he had been searching for his entire life.
Mosab found that his conscience was being rewired and his belief system challenged. This, combined with his inside access to Hamas made him a valuable informant. Over the course of his story, Mosab shares horrific accounts of suicide bombings and his efforts to provide information to the Shin Bet that saved lives. He also was transformed spiritually during this six-year journey, renouncing his Islamic faith and becoming a Christian. Mosab, after risking his life, ended his service to the Shin Bet and sought asylum in the United States. In July of 2008, he shared his story with an Israeli journalist, making public his new faith and his involvement with the Shin Bet.
Mosab’s story speaks to the presumption of organizational loyalty:
- There is a form of organizational arrogance that acts as if it deserves the loyalty of its members and presumes that it will have it unconditionally. Call this “loyalty entitlement” and it can affect a company, church, political party, sports team or scout troop. Loyalty is a two way street. Any organization that conducts itself as if it deserves the loyalty of its followers and constituents puts itself at risk. The best organizations work to earn it, which creates reciprocal loyalty in its members.
- This story also puts hypocrisy under the microscope. An organization with leaders that have even the slightest trace of hypocrisy – “do what I say, not as I do” – risks the loyalty of its members. Hypocrisy is a catalyst for breaking faith with an organization.
Organizational loyalty is not owed; it is earned. It is also a two-way street. An employee with an entitlement mentality is as distasteful as a company that feels it is owed blind, unswerving loyalty. Either can come across like the Emperor who is wearing new clothes. What is your organization wearing?