January 17, 2019

The Son of Hamas vs. The Sword of Islam

One day late in the 15th century, the brilliant Sephardic Bible commentator Don Isaac Abravanel sat in his study in Monopoli, Italy, writing a detailed commentary on the Book of Isaiah. Born in Portugal in 1437, Abravanel eventually moved to Spain in 1481, where in addition to being a respected Jewish scholar and diplomat, he served as treasurer to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Christian Spain.

Having just experienced the brutal inquisition and subsequent expulsion of his people from Spain in 1492, Abravanel sat in his study and contemplated the meaning and message behind Isaiah's prophecies. He was especially intrigued by Isaiah 54:17 (a verse from this week’s Haftarah portion) that states: “No weapon that is forged against you shall prosper.” Is this “weapon” merely a metaphor for violence, asked Abravanel, or does it point to something more specific? Can it possibly be the weapon of the Babylonians, the Romans, or, perhaps — most logically for Abravanel — the Spanish/Catholic inquisitors from Abravanel's previous home?

Abravanel's answer surprisingly omits all of these famed persecutors of the Jews, and instead points toward “jihad” and “Islamic Fundamentalism.”

Contemplating its meaning, Abravanel comments: “There are religions today whose champions are not content to assert the supremacy of their faith by debate and argument, rather they put to death all who would repudiate their faith. The Ishmaelites (Muslims) fall into this category.”

While Abravanel's comments were his interpretation of what Isaiah’s prophecy meant during the period when he lived, his comments became somewhat of a prophecy on radical Islam's future. Five hundred years after he wrote his comments on Isaiah 54:17, Abravanel's perspective on radical Islam is unfortunately alive and well. A quick survey of Iran, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizballah and ISIS, to name just a few, make Abravanel’s words seem like a fitting headline or editorial in a contemporary newspaper.

In the face of this ugly wave of radicalism and fundamentalism that is sweeping across the world, there stands one courageous person who is willing to act against it, and speak out against it. His name is Mosab Hassan Yousef, popularly known (by the title of his book) as the “Son of Hamas.” The oldest son and heir apparent to Hamas founding member and leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef, Mosab grew up with the radical Hamas ideology – in school, on the street, and at his dinner table. At the age of 17, he was arrested by Israel for illegal arms smuggling. While sitting in jail, he had a change of heart that would change the course of his life. He went from being a potential Hamas terrorist to an Israeli Shin Bet (Israel’s Secret Service) operative, becoming a double agent on behalf of Israel for ten years. Known by his code name “The Green Prince,” Mosab worked together with his Shin Bet “handler” Gonen Ben Yitzchak, and together they helped prevent dozens of planned suicide bombings and attacks against Israel.

Last night, I was privileged – together with my wife Peni, my daughter Shira and my son Ilan – to attend a private sneak preview screening of “The Green Prince,” the soon-to-be-released documentary that tells the intriguing, incredible and moving story of Mosab Hassan Yousef and Gonen Ben Yitzchak. Watching this film was a powerful experience, but none of us in the audience knew what special surprise awaited us. As the lights went on, the evening’s host announced, “Now, ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to our film’s two heroes, Mr. Mosab Hassan Yousef and Mr. Gonen Ben Yitzchak.” The surprised audience stood on their feet for a five minute standing ovation, as we greeted two of the most heroic people I have ever met in person. To learn of their story on film, and then see them together on stage, was inspirational, and filled our hearts with hope. Here were two men – one, a “Son of Hamas,” the other, an Israeli Secret Service agent – who shared a stage in camaraderie and friendship, bonded by ten years of intense undercover espionage work in the West Bank and Gaza. Their story seems like the stuff of thriller spy novels and espionage action films – but it’s all true, and I’m sure that they only revealed a tiny fraction of what they actually did. In fact, the film is less about their espionage activities alone, and more about how their espionage affected their lives, their relationship, and their perspective on what was happening in the Middle East.

I encourage you to look out for this film and see it as soon as it released. I also encourage you to read Mosab’s best-selling book “Son of Hamas.” There is much more to this incredible story than what I have written here, so make it a point to see the film and read the book.

When I met Mosab after the screening, I told him that as a spiritual leader whose task is to inspire others, I drew tremendous inspiration from his deep commitment to bring light into the world. I told him that not only was it a privilege to meet him personally, but I was especially grateful that my teenage children were in the presence of a genuine hero who risked his life to fight evil, save lives and try to make the world a better place to live. Talk about a role model. When I met Gonen, I told him he is a true reflection of his name, which means “protector.”

The Son of Hamas’ transformative decision to take on the Sword of Islam reminds us that there are still people who are willing to fight radicalism and stand up for democracy and human rights. In a world that seems so dark and hopeless, Mosab Hassan Yousef and Gonen Ben Yitzchak bring us light and give us hope.