“What do you think?” I asked Jamal. “Should we go?”
Jamal and I had known each other since we were very young. We went to school together, threw stones together, and attended mosque together. Six foot three and handsome, Jamal never spoke much. He rarely started a conversation, but he was an outstanding listener. And we never argued, not even once.
In addition to growing up together, we had been together in Megiddo Prison. After Section Five burned during the riots, Jamal was transferred with my cousin Yousef to Section Six and released from there.
Prison, however, had changed him. He stopped praying and going to mosque, and he started smoking. He was depressed and spent most of his time just sitting at home watching TV. At least I had beliefs to hold on to while I was in prison. But Jamal was from a secular family that didn’t practice Islam, so his faith was too thin to hold him together.
Now Jamal looked at me, and I could tell he wanted to go to the Bible study. He was clearly just as curious—and bored—as I was. But something inside him resisted.
“You go on without me,” he said. “Call me when you get home.”
There were about fifty of us who met inside an old storefront that night, mostly students about my age of various ethnic and religious backgrounds. A couple of people translated the English presentation into Arabic and Hebrew.
I called Jamal when I got home.
“How was it?” he asked.
“It was great,” I said. “They gave me a New Testament written in both Arabic and English. New people, new culture; it was fun.”
“I don’t know about this, Mosab,” Jamal said. “It could be dangerous for you if people discovered you were hanging out with a bunch of Christians.”
I knew Jamal meant well, but I wasn’t really very worried. My father had always taught us to be open-minded and loving toward everyone, even those who didn’t believe as we did. I looked down at the Bible in my lap. My father had a huge library of five thousand books, including a Bible. When I was a kid, I had read the sexual passages in the Song of Solomon, but never went any further. This New Testament, however, was a gift. Because gifts are honored and respected in Arab culture, I decided the least I could do was to read it.
I began at the beginning, and when I got to the Sermon on the Mount, I thought, Wow, this guy Jesus is really impressive! Everything he says is beautiful. I couldn’t put the book down. Every verse seemed to touch a deep wound in my life. It was a very simple message, but somehow it had the power to heal my soul and give me hope.
Then I read this: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45).
That’s it! I was thunderstruck by these words. Never before had I heard anything like this, but I knew that this was the message I had been searching for all my life.
For years I had struggled to know who my enemy was, and I had looked for enemies outside of Islam and Palestine. But I suddenly realized that the Israelis were not my enemies. Neither was Hamas nor my uncle Ibrahim nor the kid who beat me with the butt of his M16 nor the apelike guard in the detention center. I saw that enemies were not defined by nationality, religion, or color. I understood that we all share the same common enemies: greed, pride, and all the bad ideas and the darkness of the devil that live inside us.
That meant I could love anyone. The only real enemy was the enemy inside me.
Five years earlier, I would have read the words of Jesus and thought, What an idiot! and thrown away the Bible. But my experiences with my crazy butcher neighbor, the family members and religious leaders who beat me when my father was in prison, and my own time at Megiddo had all combined to prepare me for the power and beauty of this truth. All I could think in response was, Wow! What wisdom this man had!
Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). What a difference between him and Allah! Islam’s god was very judgmental, and Arab society followed Allah’s lead.
Jesus rebuked the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, and I thought of my uncle. I remembered a time when he received an invitation to attend a special event and how angry he had been that he was not given the best seat. It was as though Jesus was talking to Ibrahim and every sheikh and imam in Islam.
Everything Jesus said on the pages of this book made perfect sense to me. Overwhelmed, I started to cry.
God used the Shin Bet to show me that Israel was not my enemy, and now he put the answers to the rest of my questions right in my hands in that little New Testament. But I had a long way to go in my understanding of the Bible. Muslims are taught to believe in all of God’s books, both the Torah and the Bible. But we are also taught that men have changed the Bible, making it unreliable. The Qur’an, Mohammad said, was God’s final and inerrant word to man. So I would first have to abandon my belief that the Bible had been altered. Then I would have to figure out how to make both books work in my life, to somehow put Islam and Christianity together. No small challenge—reconciling the irreconcilable.
At the same time, while I believed in the teachings of Jesus, I still did not connect him with being God. Even so, my standards had changed suddenly and dramatically, because they were being influenced by the Bible instead of the Qur’an.
I continued to read my New Testament and go to the Bible study. I attended church services and thought, This is not the religious Christianity I see in Ramallah. This is real. The Christians I had known before had been no different from traditional Muslims. They claimed a religion, but they didn’t live it.
I began spending more time with people from the Bible study and found myself really enjoying their fellowship. We had such a good time talking about our lives, our backgrounds, our beliefs. They were always very respectful of my culture and my Muslim heritage. And I found that I could really be myself when I was with them.
I ached to bring what I was learning into my own culture, because I realized that the occupation was not to blame for our suffering. Our problem was much bigger than armies and politics.
I asked myself what Palestinians would do if Israel disappeared—if everything not only went back to the way it was before 1948 but if all the Jewish people abandoned the Holy Land and were scattered again. And for the first time, I knew the answer.
We would still fight. Over nothing. Over a girl without a head scarf. Over who was toughest and most important. Over who would make the rules and who would get the best seat.
It was the end of 1999. I was twenty-one years old. My life had begun to change, and the more I learned, the more confused I became.
“God, the Creator, show me the truth,” I prayed day after day. “I’m confused. I’m lost. And I don’t know which way to go.”
Hamas—once the ascendant power among Palestinians—was in shambles. The shattered organization’s bitter rival for hearts and minds was now in complete control.
Through intrigue and deal making, the Palestinian Authority had accomplished what Israel had been unable to do through sheer might. It had destroyed the military wing of Hamas and thrown its leadership and fighters into prison. Even after they were released, the Hamas members went home and did nothing more against the PA or the occupation. The young feda’iyeen were exhausted. Their leaders were divided and deeply suspicious of one another.
My father was on his own again, so he went back to working in the mosque and the refugee camps. Now when he spoke, he did so in the name of Allah, not as the leader of Hamas. After years of separation through our respective imprisonments, I relished the opportunity to travel and spend time with him once again. I had missed our long talks about life and Islam.
As I continued to read my Bible and spend time learning about Christianity, I found that I was really drawn to the grace, love, and humility that Jesus talked about. Surprisingly, it was those same character traits that drew people to my father—one of the most devoted Muslims I had ever known.
As for my relationship with the Shin Bet, now that Hamas was virtually out of the picture and the PA was keeping things calm, there seemed to be nothing for me to do. We were just friends now. They could let me go whenever they wanted to, or I could say good-bye to them at any time.
The Camp David Summit between Yasser Arafat, American president Bill Clinton, and Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak ended on July 25, 2000. Barak had offered Arafat about 90 percent of the West Bank, the entire Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem as the capital of a new Palestinian state. In addition, a new international fund would be established to compensate Palestinians for the property that had been taken from them. This “land for peace” offer represented a historic opportunity for the long-suffering Palestinian people, something few Palestinians would have dared imagine possible. But even so, it was not enough for Arafat.
Yasser Arafat had grown extraordinarily wealthy as the international symbol of victimhood. He wasn’t about to surrender that status and take on the responsibility of actually building a functioning society. So he insisted that all the refugees be permitted to return to the lands they had owned prior to 1967—a condition he was confident Israel would not accept.
Though Arafat’s rejection of Barak’s offer constituted a historic catastrophe for his people, the Palestinian leader returned to his hard-line supporters as a hero who had thumbed his nose at the president of the United States, as someone who had not backed down and settled for less, and as a leader who stood tough against the entire world.
Arafat went on television, and the world watched as he talked about his love for the Palestinian people and his grief over millions of families living in the squalor of the refugee camps. Now that I was traveling with my father and attending meetings with Arafat, I began to see for myself how much the man loved the media attention. He seemed to relish being portrayed as some kind of Palestinian Che Guevara and a peer of kings, presidents, and prime ministers.
Yasser Arafat made it clear that he wanted to be a hero who was written about in the history books. But as I watched him, I often thought, Yes, let him be remembered in our history books, not as a hero, but as a traitor who sold out his people for a ride on their shoulders. As a reverse Robin Hood, who plundered the poor and made himself rich. As a cheap ham, who bought his place in the limelight with Palestinian blood.
It was also interesting to see Arafat through the eyes of my contacts in Israeli intelligence. “What is this guy doing?” my Shin Bet handler asked me one day. “We never thought our leaders would give up what they offered Arafat. Never! And he said no?”
Indeed, Arafat had been handed the keys to peace in the Middle East along with real nationhood for the Palestinian people—and he had thrown them away. As a result, the status quo of quiet corruption continued. But things would not remain quiet for long. For Arafat, there always seemed to be more to gain if Palestinians were bleeding. Another intifada would surely get the blood flowing and the Western news cameras rolling once again.
Conventional wisdom among the world’s governments and news organizations tells us that the bloody uprising known as the Second Intifada was a spontaneous eruption of Palestinian rage triggered by General Ariel Sharon’s visit to what Israel calls the Temple Mount complex. As usual, the conventional wisdom is wrong.
* * *
The evening of September 27, my father knocked at my door and asked if I would drive him to Marwan Barghouti’s house the next morning after dawn prayer.
Marwan Barghouti was secretary-general of Fatah, the largest political faction of the PLO. He was a charismatic young Palestinian leader, a strong advocate of a Palestinian state, and a foe of the corruption and human rights abuses of the PA and Arafat’s security forces. A short, casual man who wore blue jeans most of the time, Marwan was favored to be the next Palestinian president.
“What’s going on?” I asked my dad.
“Sharon is scheduled to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque tomorrow, and the PA believes this is a good opportunity to launch an uprising.”
Ariel Sharon was the leader of the conservative Likud Party and the political nemesis of Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s left-leaning Labor Party. Sharon was in the middle of a close political race in which he was challenging Barak for leadership of the Israeli government.
An uprising? Were they serious? The PA leaders who put my father into prison were now asking him to help start another intifada. It was galling, though it wasn’t difficult to deduce why they approached my father about this plan. They knew the people loved and trusted him as much as—if not more than—they hated and distrusted the PA. They would follow my father anywhere, and the leadership knew it.
They also knew that Hamas, like a worn-out boxer, was down for the count. They wanted my father to pick it up, splash water in its face, and send it in for another round so the PA could knock it cold again before a cheering crowd. Even the Hamas leaders—weary from years of conflict—warned my father to watch out.
“Arafat only wants to use us as fuel for his political furnace,” they told him. “Don’t go too far with this new intifada of his.”
But my father understood the importance of making this gesture. If he didn’t at least appear to be working with the PA, they would simply point the finger at Hamas, blaming us for disrupting the peace process.
Regardless of what we did, we seemed to be in a lose-lose situation, and I was deeply concerned about the plan. But I knew my father needed to do this, so the next morning I drove him to Marwan Barghouti’s house. We knocked on the door, got no immediate response, and eventually learned that Marwan was still in bed.
Typical , I said to myself. Fatah involves my father in their stupid plans and then can’t even be bothered to get out of bed to help carry them out .
“Never mind,” I told my father. “Don’t bother. Get into the car, and I’ll take you to Jerusalem.”
Of course, driving my father to the site of Sharon’s visit was risky, given that most Palestinian cars were not allowed to enter Jerusalem. Ordinarily, if a Palestinian driver was caught by the Israeli police, he would be fined, but given who we were, my father and I would probably be arrested on the spot. I had to be very careful, keeping to the side roads and trusting that my Shin Bet connections would protect me if necessary.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are built on the rubble and remains of two ancient Jewish Temples—the Temple of Solomon from the tenth century BC and Herod the Great’s Temple from the time of Christ. Thus it is with good reason that some have described this rocky hill as the most volatile thirty-five acres on earth. The place is holy to all three of the world’s great monotheistic religions. But from a scientific and historical standpoint, it is also a site of enormous archaeological significance—even to the most hardened of atheists.
In the weeks prior to Sharon’s visit to the site, the Muslim Waqf—governing Islamic authority there—had closed off the Temple Mount entirely to any archaeological oversight by the Israel Antiquities Authority. Then in carrying out construction work on new underground mosques at the site, they brought in heavy earthmoving equipment. The evening news in Israel carried images of bulldozers, backhoes, and dump trucks working in and upon the site. Over the course of several weeks, dump trucks moved some thirteen thousand tons of rubble from the Temple Mount complex to city garbage dumps. News reports from the dumps showed archaeologists shaking their heads in disbelief as they held up remnants of artifacts retrieved from the rubble, some of them dating back to the First and Second Temple periods.
To many Israelis, it seemed clear that the intention was to turn the entire thirty-five-acre compound into an exclusively Muslim site by erasing every sign, remnant, and memory of its Jewish past. This included the destruction of any archaeological findings that represented evidence of that history.
Sharon’s visit was designed to deliver a silent but clear message to Israeli voters: “I’ll put a stop to this unnecessary destruction.” In planning the trip, Sharon’s people had received assurances from Palestinian security chief Jibril Rajoub that his visit would not be a problem as long as he did not set foot in a mosque.
My father and I got to the site a few minutes before Sharon’s arrival. It was a quiet morning. A hundred or so Palestinians had come to pray. Sharon arrived during normal tourist hours with a Likud delegation and about a thousand riot police. He came, he looked around, and he left. He said nothing. He never entered the mosque.
It all seemed like a big nonevent to me. On the way back to Ramallah, I asked my father what the big deal had been.
“What happened?” I said. “You didn’t start an intifada.”
“Not yet,” he answered. “But I have called some activists in the Islamic student movement and asked them to meet me here for a protest.”
“Nothing happened in Jerusalem, so now you want to demonstrate in Ramallah? That’s crazy,” I told him.
“We have to do what we have to do. Al-Aqsa is our mosque, and Sharon had no business being there. We cannot allow this.”
I wondered if he was trying to convince me or himself.
The demonstration in Ramallah was anything but a dramatic spectacle of spontaneous combustion. It was still early in the day, and people were walking around town as usual, wondering what was up with these students and guys from Hamas who didn’t even seem to know what they were protesting.
A number of men stood up with bullhorns and made speeches, and the small group of Palestinians who had gathered around them occasionally broke out into chanting and shouting. But for the most part, nobody really seemed to care too deeply. Things had calmed down quite a bit within the Palestinian territories. Every day was simply occupation as usual. Israeli soldiers had become a fixture. Palestinians were allowed to work and go to school inside Israel. Ramallah enjoyed a thriving nightlife, so it was difficult to figure out what these guys were all worked up about.
As far as I was concerned, this demonstration seemed like another nonevent. So I called some of my friends from Bible study, and we headed up to Galilee to camp out at the lake.
Cut off from any source of news, I didn’t know that on the following morning a large number of rock-throwing Palestinian demonstrators clashed with Israeli riot police near the site of Sharon’s visit. The rock throwing escalated to lobbing Molotov cocktails, and then gunfire with Kalashnikovs. Police used rubber-coated metal bullets and, by some reports, live ammunition to disperse the demonstrators. Four protesters were killed, and about two hundred more were injured. Fourteen police personnel were injured as well. And all of this was precisely what the Palestinian Authority had counted on happening.
The next day, I received a telephone call from the Shin Bet.
“Where are you?”
“I’m in Galilee camping with some friends.”
“Galilee! What? You’re crazy!” Loai started to laugh. “You are really unbelievable,” he said. “The whole West Bank is upside down and you’re out having fun with your Christian friends.”
When he told me what had been happening, I jumped in the car and immediately headed home.
Yasser Arafat and the other PA leaders had been determined to spark another intifada. They had been planning it for months, even as Arafat and Barak had been meeting with President Clinton at Camp David. They had simply been waiting for a suitable triggering pretext. Sharon’s visit provided just such an excuse. So after a couple of false starts, the Al-Aqsa Intifada began in earnest and the tinderbox of passions in the West Bank and Gaza were inflamed once again. Especially in Gaza.
There, Fatah launched demonstrations that resulted in the globally televised death of a twelve-year-old boy named Mohammed al-Dura. The boy and his father, Jamal, had gotten caught in the cross fire and taken cover behind a concrete cylinder. The boy was hit by a stray bullet and died in his father’s arms. The entire heartrending scene was captured by a Palestinian cameraman working for French public television. Within hours, the video clip had circled the globe and enraged millions against the Israeli occupation.
In the ensuing months, however, there would be a heated international controversy over this event. Some cited evidence that Palestinian gunfire was actually responsible for the boy’s death. Others continued to blame the Israelis. There were even some who argued that the film was a carefully staged hoax. Since the footage did not actually show the boy being shot or even his body, many suspected a propaganda ploy by the PLO. If the latter was the case, it was brilliant and effective.
Whatever the truth, I suddenly found myself caught awkwardly in the middle of a war in which my father was a key leader—albeit a leader who had no idea what he was leading or where it would lead him. He was simply being used and manipulated by Arafat and Fatah to start trouble, thereby providing the PA with fresh bargaining chips and fund-raising fodder.
Meanwhile, people were once again dying at the checkpoints. All sides were shooting indiscriminately. Children were being killed. Day after bloody day, a tearful Yasser Arafat stood before the Western news cameras wringing his hands and denying that he had anything to do with the violence. Instead, he pointed his finger at my father, at Marwan Barghouti, and at the people in the refugee camps. He assured the world that he was doing everything he could to put down the uprising. But all the time, his other finger was resting firmly on the trigger.
Soon, however, Arafat discovered he had released a terrible genie. He had shaken the Palestinian people awake and stirred them up because doing so suited his purposes. But it wasn’t long before they were completely out of control. As they saw IDF soldiers shoot down their fathers and mothers and children, the people became so enraged they wouldn’t listen to the PA or anybody else.
Arafat also discovered that the battered boxer he had set back on its feet was made of sterner stuff than he had imagined. The streets were the natural environment for Hamas. The boxer had gotten its start there, and it was there that it was at its strongest.
Peace with Israel? Camp David? Oslo? Half of Jerusalem? Forget all of it! Any mood for compromise had evaporated in the white-hot furnace of conflict. Palestinians were back to the all-or-nothing mentality of the past. And now it was Hamas rather than Arafat that was fanning the flames.
Tit for tat, the violence escalated. With each passing day, each side’s list of grievances grew even as their respective reservoirs of grief overflowed.
• October 8, 2000, Jewish mobs attacked Palestinians in Nazareth. Two Arabs were killed, and dozens were injured. In Tiberias, Jews destroyed a two-hundred-year-old mosque.
• October 12, a Palestinian mob killed two IDF soldiers in Ramallah. Israel retaliated by bombing Gaza, Ramallah, Jericho, and Nablus.
• November 2, a car bomb killed two Israelis near the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem. Ten others were injured.
• November 5, the thirty-eighth day of the Al-Aqsa Intifada is marked, with more than 150 Palestinians among the dead so far.
• November 11, an Israeli helicopter detonated an explosive device that had been planted in the car of a Hamas activist.
• November 20, a roadside bomb exploded alongside a bus carrying children to school. Two Israelis were killed. Nine others, including five children, were injured.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Something had to be done to stop this rolling madness. I knew the time had come for me to begin working with Shin Bet. And I went at it with all my heart.
What I am about to reveal has, until now, been unknown to all except a handful in Israeli intelligence. I am disclosing this information in the hope that it will shed light on a number of significant events that have long been shrouded in mystery.
On the day of decision—the day I decided to do all I could to stop the madness—I began by learning everything I could about the activities and plans of Marwan Barghouti and the Hamas leaders. I told everything I learned to the Shin Bet, which was doing all it could to find these leaders.
Within the Shin Bet, I had been assigned the code name the Green Prince. Green reflected the color of the Hamas flag, and prince was an obvious reference to the position of my father—a king within Hamas. Thus, at the age of twenty-two, I became the Shin Bet’s only Hamas insider who could infiltrate Hamas’s military and political wings, as well as other Palestinian factions.
But this responsibility was not all on my shoulders. It was clear to me by now that God had specifically placed me at the core of both Hamas and Palestinian leadership, in Yasser Arafat’s meetings, and with the Israeli security service for a reason. I was in a unique position to do the job. And I could feel that God was with me.
I wanted to go deep, to know everything that was going on. I had been in the center of the First Intifada, surrounded by violence. The dead had filled to capacity a cemetery in which I had played soccer as a child. I threw stones. I violated curfew. But I didn’t understand why our people pursued violence. Now I wanted to know why we were doing it all over again. I needed to understand.
From Yasser Arafat’s perspective, the uprising seemed to be all about politics, money, and holding on to power. He was a grand manipulator, the Palestinian puppet master. On camera, he condemned Hamas for its attacks against civilians inside Israel. Hamas did not represent the PA or the Palestinian people, he insisted. But he did little to interfere, content to let Hamas do his dirty work and take the heat from the international community. He had become a sly old politician who knew that Israel could not stop the attacks without partnering with the PA. And the more attacks there were, the sooner Israel would come to the bargaining table.
During that time, a new group appeared on the scene. It called itself the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. IDF soldiers and settlers were its targets of choice. But nobody knew who these guys were or where they came from. They seemed religious, though nobody in Hamas or Islamic Jihad knew them. They didn’t appear to be nationalist offshoots of the PA or Fatah.
The Shin Bet was as puzzled as everyone else. Once or twice a week, another settler’s car or bus was attacked with deadly accuracy. Even heavily armed Israeli soldiers were no match for this group.
One day, Loai called me.
“We have reports of some unidentified men visiting Maher Odeh, and we need you to find out who they are and what their connection to him is. You’re the only one we can trust not to screw it up.”
Maher Odeh was a top Hamas leader who was wanted badly by the Shin Bet. He was a head of Hamas’s security wing within the prison system, and I knew he had been responsible for much of the torture that went on there. I suspected that he was the mover and shaker behind the suicide attacks. Odeh was also a very secretive person, which made it almost impossible for the Shin Bet to gather the evidence necessary to authorize his arrest.
That evening, I drove through central Ramallah. It was Ramadan, and the streets were empty. The sun had set, so everybody was home breaking their daily fast as I pulled into a parking lot down the road from Maher Odeh’s apartment building. Though I hadn’t been trained for this kind of operation, I knew the basics. In the movies, guys sit in a car across the street from the suspect’s home and maintain surveillance with fancy cameras and other spy gear. Though the Shin Bet had extremely sophisticated equipment at their disposal, the only things I had for this mission were my car and my eyes. I simply needed to watch the building and keep track of who came and who went.
After about half an hour, several armed men left the two-story building and entered a new green Chevy with Israeli tags. The whole scene was wrong. First of all, Hamas members, especially those from the military wing, never carried their weapons in public. Second, guys like Maher Odeh didn’t hang out with armed men.