I read sixteen hours a day until my eyes grew weak from the poor light. During the four months I spent at Ktzi’ot, I memorized four thousand English vocabulary words.
While I was there, I also experienced two prison uprisings, far worse than the one we had at Megiddo. But God got me through it all. In fact, I experienced God’s presence more strongly in that prison than any time before or since. I may not have known Jesus as the Creator yet, but I was certainly learning to love God the Father.
* * *
On April 2, 2003—as Coalition ground troops raced toward Baghdad—I was released. I emerged as a respected leader of Hamas, a seasoned terrorist, and a wily fugitive. I had been tried by fire and proven. My risk of being burned had decreased significantly, and my father was alive and safe.
Once more I could walk openly down the streets of Ramallah. I no longer had to act like a fugitive. I could be myself again. I called my mother; then I called Loai.
“Welcome home, Green Prince,” he said. “We missed you very much. A lot has been happening, and we didn’t know what to do without you.”
A few days after my return, I had a reunion with Loai and my other good Israeli friends. They had only one news item to report, but it was a huge one.
In March, Abdullah Barghouti had been spotted and arrested. Later that year, the Kuwaiti-born bomb maker would be tried in Israeli military court for killing sixty-six people and wounding about five hundred. I knew there were more, but those were all we would be able to prove. Barghouti would be sentenced to sixty-seven life terms—one for each murder victim and an extra one for all those he had wounded. At his sentencing, he would express no remorse, blame Israel, and regret only that he had not had the opportunity to kill more Jews.
“The spate of murderous terror that the accused let loose was one of the most severe in the blood-soaked history of this country,” the judges said.Barghouti flew into a rage, threatening to kill the judges and to teach every Hamas prisoner how to make bombs. As a result, he would serve his terms in solitary confinement. Ibrahim Hamed, my friend Saleh Talahme, and the others, however, still remained at large.
In October, my project at USAID ended, along with my employment. So I threw myself into my work for the Shin Bet, gathering all the information I could.
One morning, a couple of months later, Loai called.
“We found Saleh.”
Winter 2003—Spring 2006
It was easy to know where Saleh and his friends had been . The blood they left in their wake was unmistakable. But until now, nobody had been able to catch up to them.
That the Shin Bet had found him broke my heart. Saleh was my friend. He had helped me with my studies. I had shared bread with him and his wife, and I had played with his children. But Saleh was also a terrorist. During his imprisonment by the Palestinian Authority, he had continued his studies through Al-Quds Open University and used what he learned to become such a great bomb maker that he could even make explosives from garbage.
After Saleh’s release by the PA, the Shin Bet watched to see how much time it would take him and his friends to rebuild the Al-Qassam Brigades. It didn’t take long at all. The rebuilt organization wasn’t big, but it was deadly.
Maher Odeh was the brains of the operation; Saleh, the engineer; and Bilal Barghouti, the recruiter of suicide bombers. In fact, the Hamas military wing consisted of only about ten people who operated independently, had their own budgets, and never met together unless it was urgent. Saleh could turn out several explosive belts overnight, and Bilal had a waiting list of candidates for martyrdom.
If I had believed Saleh was innocent, I would have warned him about what was going to happen. But when we finally connected the dots, I realized that he had been behind the Hebrew University bombing and many others. I understood that he needed to be locked away in prison. The only thing I might have done was introduce him to the teachings of Jesus and urge him to follow them as I did. But I knew he was too blinded by rage, zeal, and commitment to have listened, even to an old friend. I could, however, beg the Shin Bet to arrest Saleh and the others rather than kill them. And very reluctantly, they agreed.
Israeli security agents had been monitoring Saleh for more than two months. They watched him leave his apartment to meet in an abandoned house with Hasaneen Rummanah. And they watched him return home, where he remained for a week or so. They saw that his friend Sayyed al-Sheikh Qassem went out more frequently, but he always did what he had to do and came right back. The caution of the fugitives was impressive. No wonder it had taken us so long to find them. Once we picked up their scent, however, it was just a matter of tracking their contacts and contacts of contacts—about forty or fifty in all.
We had a lock on three of the guys on our most-wanted list, but for Ibrahim Hamed and Maher Odeh, we had only clues, nothing concrete. We had to decide whether to wait until the clues led us to them, which was a long shot, or break the spine of the Al-Qassam Brigades in the West Bank by arresting those we had already located. We decided on the latter, figuring we might even get lucky and snag Hamed or Odeh when we hauled in our net.
On the night of December 1, 2003, special forces surrounded more than fifty suspected locations at one time. Every troop available had been called in from all over the West Bank. The Hamas leaders were holed up at the Al-Kiswani building in Ramallah, and they did not respond when they were asked to surrender. Saleh and Sayyed had a lot of weaponry, including a heavy machine gun, the type usually found welded to military vehicles.
The standoff began at 10 p.m. and continued through the night. When the shooting started, I could hear it from my house. Then the unmistakable explosion of a Merkava cannon shattered the morning, and everything was quiet. At 6 a.m., my phone rang.
“Your friend is gone,” Loai told me. “I’m so sorry. You know we would have spared him if we could have. But let me tell you something. If this man—” Loai’s voice broke as he tried to continue— “if this man had grown up in a different environment, he would not have been the same. He would have been just like us. He thought, he really believed, he was doing something good for his people. He was just so wrong.”
Loai knew I had loved Saleh and didn’t want him to die. He knew Saleh was resisting something he believed to be evil and hurtful to his people. And maybe, somehow, Loai had come to care about Saleh too.
“Are they all dead?”
“I haven’t seen the bodies yet. They took them to Ramallah Hospital. We need you to go there and identify them. You’re the only one who knew them all.”
I grabbed a coat and drove over to the hospital, desperately hoping that maybe it wasn’t Saleh, maybe somebody else had been killed. When I arrived, it was chaos. Angry Hamas activists were shouting in the street, and police were everywhere. No one was allowed inside, but because everybody knew who I was, the hospital officials let me in. A medical worker led me down a hallway to a room lined with large coolers. He opened the refrigerator door and slowly pulled out a drawer, releasing the stench of death into the room.
I looked down and saw Saleh’s face. He was almost smiling. But his head was empty. Sayyed’s drawer contained a collection of body parts—legs, head, whatever—in a black plastic bag. Hasaneen Rummanah had been ripped in half. I wasn’t even sure it was him because the face was shaved and Hasaneen had always worn a soft brown beard. Despite media reports to the contrary, Ibrahim Hamed was not with the others. The man who had ordered these men to fight to the death had run away to save himself.
With virtually all of the West Bank Hamas leaders dead or in prison, I became the contact for the leaders in Gaza and Damascus. Somehow, I had become a key contact for the entire Palestinian network of parties, sects, organizations, and cells—including terrorist cells. And no one but a handful of elite Shin Bet insiders knew who or what I really was. It was astonishing to think about.
Because of my new role, it was my sad responsibility to organize the funerals for Saleh and the others. As I did so, I watched every move and listened for every angry or grief-filled whisper that might lead us to Hamed.
“Since the rumors are already flying,” Loai said, “and you are sitting in for the leaders we’ve arrested, let’s put out the word that Ibrahim Hamed cut a deal with the Shin Bet. Most Palestinians have no idea what’s going on. They’ll believe it, and he’ll be forced to defend himself publicly or at least contact the political leaders in Gaza or Damascus. Either way, we may get a lead.”
It was a great idea, but the agency brass nixed it because they were afraid Ibrahim would launch an attack on civilians in retaliation—as if Israel’s killing his friends and arresting half of his organization hadn’t made him angry enough.
So we did it the hard way.
Agents bugged every room in Hamed’s house, hoping his wife or children might let something slip. But it turned out to be the quietest house in Palestine. Once we heard his young son, Ali, ask his mother, “Where is Baba?”
“We don’t talk about that at all,” she scolded.
If his family was that careful, how cautious would Ibrahim be? Months passed with no trace of him.
* * *
In late October 2004, Yasser Arafat became ill during a meeting. His people said he had the flu. But his condition got worse, and he was finally flown out of the West Bank to a hospital outside of Paris. On November 3, he slipped into a coma. Some said he had been poisoned. Others said he had AIDS. He died November 11 at age seventy-five.
A week or so later, my father was released from prison, and no one was more surprised than he was. Loai and other Shin Bet officials met with him the morning of his release.
“Sheikh Hassan,” they said, “it is time for peace. People outside need a person like you. Arafat is gone; a lot of people are being killed. You are a reasonable man. We have to work things out somehow before they get worse.”
“Leave the West Bank, and give us an independent state,” my father replied, “and it will be over.” Of course both sides knew that Hamas would never stop short of taking back all of Israel, though an independent Palestine might bring peace for a decade or two.
Outside Ofer Prison, I waited along with hundreds of reporters from around the world. Carrying his belongings in a black garbage bag, my father squinted in the bright sunlight as two Israeli soldiers led him out the door.
We hugged and kissed, and he asked me to take him directly to Yasser Arafat’s grave before going home. I looked into his eyes and understood that this was a very important step for him. With Arafat gone, Fatah was weakened and the streets were boiling. Fatah leaders were terrified that Hamas would take over, igniting a turf war. The United States, Israel, and the international community were afraid of a civil war. This gesture by the top Hamas leader in the West Bank was a shock to everyone, but no one missed the message: Calm down, everybody. Hamas is not going to take advantage of the death of Arafat. There will be no civil war.
The fact was, however, that after a decade of arrests, imprisonments, and assassinations, the Shin Bet still had no clue who was actually in charge of Hamas. None of us did. I had helped them arrest known activists, men heavily involved in the resistance movement, all the while hoping they were the ones. We put people under administrative detention for years, sometimes based on suspicion alone. But Hamas never seemed to notice their absence.
So who was really in charge?
The fact that it wasn’t my father came as a big surprise to everyone—even me. We bugged his office and car, monitored every move he made. And there was absolutely no doubt that he was not pulling the strings.
Hamas had always been something of a ghost. It had no central or branch offices, no place where people could drop by to talk to movement representatives. A lot of Palestinians came to my dad’s office, shared their problems, and asked for help, especially the families of prisoners and martyrs who lost their husbands and fathers during the intifadas. But even Sheikh Hassan Yousef was in the dark. Everybody thought he had all the answers, but he was no different than the rest of us: all he had were questions.
Once he told me he was thinking of closing his office.
“Why? Where will you meet with the media?” I asked.
“I don’t care. People are coming from everywhere, hoping I can help. But there is no way I can provide for everyone who needs help; it’s simply too much.”
“Why doesn’t Hamas help them? These are the families of the movement members. Hamas has lots of money.”
“Yes, but the organization doesn’t give it to me.”
“So ask for some. Tell them about all the people in need.”
“I don’t know who they are or how to get hold of them .”
“But you’re the leader,” I protested.
“I am not the leader.”
“You founded Hamas, Father. If you’re not the leader, who is?”
“No one is the leader!”
I was shocked. The Shin Bet was recording every word, and they were shocked as well.
One day, I received a call from Majeda Talahme, Saleh’s wife. We hadn’t spoken since her husband’s funeral.
“Hi, how are you? How are Mosab and the other kids?”
She started to cry.
“I don’t have money to feed the children.”
I thought, God forgive you, Saleh, for what you did to your family!
“Okay, my sister, calm down, and I will try to do something.”
I went to my dad.
“Saleh’s wife just called. She doesn’t have money to buy food for her children.”
“Sadly, Mosab, she is not the only one.”
“Yes, but Saleh was a very good friend of mine. We have to do something right away!”
“Son, I told you. I don’t have any money.”
“Okay, but somebody’s in charge. Somebody has plenty of money. This isn’t fair! This man died for the sake of the movement!”
My father told me he would do what he could. He wrote a letter, sort of a “to whom it may concern,” and sent it to a drop point. We couldn’t track it, but we knew the recipient was somewhere in the Ramallah area.
A few months earlier, the Shin Bet had sent me to an Internet café downtown. We knew that someone using one of the computers there was in communication with Hamas leaders in Damascus. We didn’t know who all these leaders were, but there was no denying that Syria was a hub of Hamas’s power. It made sense for Hamas to maintain a whole organization—an office, weapons, and military camps—somewhere it could be out from under the Israeli hammer.
“We don’t know who it is communicating with Damascus,” Loai said, “but he sounds dangerous.”
As I walked into the café, I found twenty people sitting at computers. None had beards. Nobody looked suspicious. But one of them caught my attention, though I have no idea why. I didn’t recognize him, but my instinct told me to keep an eye on him. I knew it wasn’t much to go on, but over the years, the Shin Bet had learned to trust my hunches.
We were convinced that, whoever this man at the Internet café was, he was probably dangerous. Only highly trusted people were able to communicate with Hamas leaders in Damascus. And we hoped that he might also lead us to the elusive, shadowy elite who actually ruled Hamas. We circulated his photograph, but no one recognized him. I began to question my instincts.
A few weeks later, I held an open house for some property in Ramallah that I had put up for sale. Several people came, but no one made an offer. Late that afternoon, after I had closed up, I got a call from a man who asked if he could still see the house. I was really very tired, but I told him to go on over and I would meet him there. I returned to the property, and he showed up a few minutes later.
It was the man from the Internet café. He told me his name was Aziz Kayed. He was clean shaven and very professional looking. I could tell he was educated, and he said he ran the respectable Al-Buraq Center for Islamic Studies. He didn’t seem to be the link we were looking for. But rather than confuse the Shin Bet even more, I kept the discovery to myself.
Sometime after my encounter with Kayed, my father and I set out to visit cities, villages, and refugee camps throughout the West Bank. In one town, more than fifty thousand people gathered to see Sheikh Hassan Yousef. They all wanted to touch him and hear what he had to say. He was still deeply loved.
In Nablus, a Hamas stronghold, we met with top organization leaders, and I figured out which of them were members of the shurah council—a small group of seven men who make decisions on strategic issues and daily activities for the movement. Like my dad, they were among the eldest Hamas leaders, but they were not the “executives” we were looking for.
After all these years, I could not believe that control of Hamas had somehow, somewhere along the line, slipped into unknown hands. If I, who was born and raised in the heart of the movement, had no idea who pulled the strings, who knew?
The answer came out of the blue. One of the shurah council members in Nablus mentioned the name of Aziz Kayed. He suggested that my father visit Al-Buraq and meet this “good man.” My ears perked up immediately. Why would a local Hamas leader make such a recommendation? There were simply too many coincidences: first, Aziz caught my eye in the Internet café; then he showed up at my open house; and now, the council member was telling my dad he should meet this man. Was this a sign that my hunch was correct and Aziz Kayed was someone important in the Hamas organization?
Could we even be so fortunate as to have found the person in charge? As unlikely as it sounded, something inside me said to follow my instinct. I raced back to Ramallah, where I called Loai and asked him to order a computer search for Aziz Kayed.
Several Aziz Kayeds popped up, but none who fit the description. We had an emergency meeting, and I asked Loai to widen the name search to the entire West Bank. His people thought I was crazy, but they went along with me.
This time, we found him.
Aziz Kayed was born in Nablus and was a former member of the Islamic student movement. He had discontinued his activities ten years earlier. He was married with children and free to travel out of the country. Most of his friends were secular. We found nothing suspicious.
I explained to the Shin Bet everything that had happened, from the moment I stepped into the Internet café to the visit to Nablus with my father. They said that although they definitely trusted me, we simply didn’t have enough to go on yet.
While we were talking, I thought about something else.
“Kayed reminds me of three other guys,” I said to Loai. “Salah Hussein from Ramallah, Adib Zeyadeh from Jerusalem, and Najeh Madi from Salfeet. All three of these guys have advanced university degrees and were at one time very active in Hamas. But for whatever reason, they simply dropped out of sight about ten years ago. Now, they all live very normal lives, completely removed from political involvement. I always wondered why someone who was so passionate about the movement would just quit like that.”
Loai agreed that I might be onto something. We began to study the movements of each man. It turned out that all three of them were in communication with one another and with Aziz Kayed. They all worked together at Al-Buraq. That was way too coincidental.
Could these four unlikely men be the real puppet masters running Hamas, controlling even the military wing? Could they have been flying under the radar while we had been targeting all the high-profile guys? We continued to dig, monitor, and wait. Finally our patience paid off with an enormous intelligence breakthrough.
We learned that these deadly thirtysomethings had gained total control of the money and were running the entire Hamas movement in the West Bank. They brought in millions of dollars from the outside, which they used to buy arms, manufacture explosives, recruit volunteers, support fugitives, provide logistic support, everything—all under the cover of one of Palestine’s numerous and seemingly innocuous research centers.
No one knew them. They never appeared on TV. They communicated only by letters through drop points. They obviously trusted no one—as evidenced by the fact that even my father had no clue about their existence.
One day, we followed Najeh Madi from his apartment to a commercial garage a block away. He walked to one of the units and lifted the door. What was he doing there? Why would he lease a garage that far from his home?
For the next two weeks, we never took our eyes off that stupid garage, but nobody came again. Finally, the door opened—from the inside—and Ibrahim Hamed stepped out into the sunlight!
The Shin Bet waited just long enough for him to return to the building before launching an arrest operation. But when Hamed was surrounded by special forces, he did not fight to the death as he had ordered Saleh and the others to do.
“Take off your clothes and come out!”
“You have ten minutes. Then we will demolish the building!”
Two minutes later, the leader of the military wing of Hamas in the West Bank walked through the door in his underwear.
“Take off all your clothes!”
He hesitated, stripped, and stood before the soldiers, naked.
Ibrahim Hamed was personally responsible for the deaths of more than eighty people that we could prove. It may not be a very Jesus-like impulse, but if it had been up to me, I would have put him back in his filthy garage, locked him in for the rest of his life, and saved the state the expense of a trial.
Capturing Hamed and exposing the real leaders of Hamas proved to be my most important operation for the Shin Bet. It was also my final one.
A VISION FOR HAMAS
During his most recent imprisonment, my father had had a sort of epiphany.
He had always been very open-minded. He would sit down and talk with Christians, nonreligious people, even Jews. He listened carefully to journalists, experts, and analysts, and he attended lectures at the universities. And he listened to me—his assistant, adviser, and protector. As a result, he had a much clearer, broader vision than other Hamas leaders.
He saw that Israel was an immutable reality and recognized many of the goals of Hamas as illogical and unattainable. He wanted to find some middle ground that both sides could accept without losing face. So in his first public speech following his release, he suggested the possibility of a two-state solution to the conflict. No one in Hamas had ever said anything like that. The closest they ever got to a handshake was to declare a truce. But my father was actually acknowledging the right of Israel to exist! His phone never stopped ringing.
Diplomats from every country, including the United States, contacted us to request secret meetings with my father. They wanted to see for themselves if he was for real. I served as translator, never leaving his side. My Christian friends supported him unconditionally, and he loved them for it.
Not surprisingly, he had a problem. While he spoke in the name of Hamas, he definitely did not speak from the heart of Hamas. Yet it would have been the worst possible time for him to move away from the organization. The death of Yasser Arafat had created a huge vacuum and left the streets of the occupied territories boiling. Radical young men were everywhere—armed, hate filled, and leaderless.
It wasn’t that Arafat was so difficult to replace. Any corrupt politician would do. The problem was that he had completely centralized the PA and the PLO. He wasn’t what you would call a team player. He had held all the authority and all the connections. And his name was on all the bank accounts.
Now Fatah was infested with Arafat wannabes. But who among them would be acceptable to the Palestinians and the international community—and strong enough to control all the factions? Even Arafat had never really accomplished that.
When Hamas decided to participate in the Palestinian parliamentry elections a few months later, my father was less than enthusiastic. After the military wing had been added to Hamas during the Al-Aqsa Intifada, he had watched his organization turn into an awkward creature, hobbling along with one very long militant leg and one very short political leg. Hamas simply had no idea how the governing game was played.
Being a revolutionary is all about purity and rigidity. But governing is all about compromise and flexibility. If Hamas wanted to rule, negotiation would not be an option; it would be a necessity. As elected officials, they would suddenly be responsible for budget, water, food, electricity, and waste removal. And everything had to come through Israel. Any independent Palestinian state would have to be a cooperative state.
My father remembered his meetings with Western leaders and how Hamas had rejected every recommendation. It was reflexively closed-minded and contrarian. And if it had refused to negotiate with the Americans and the Europeans, my father reasoned, what was the likelihood that an elected Hamas would sit down at the table with the Israelis?
My father didn’t care if Hamas fielded candidates. He just didn’t want to fill the ticket with high-profile leaders like himself who were loved and admired by the people. If that happened, he feared, Hamas would win. And he knew a Hamas victory could prove to be a disaster for the people. Events proved him right.
“There certainly exists among us concern that Israel, and perhaps others also, will impose punishments on the Palestinians because they voted for Hamas,” I heard him tell a Haaretz reporter. “They will say ‘you decided to choose Hamas and therefore we will intensify the siege over you and make your lives difficult.’”
But many in Hamas smelled money, power, and glory. Even former leaders who had given up on the organization came out of nowhere to grab a piece of the pie. My father was disgusted with their greed, irresponsibility, and ignorance. These guys couldn’t tell the difference between the CIA and USAID. Who was going to work with them?
* * *
I was frustrated with just about everything. I was frustrated with the corruption of the PA, the stupidity and cruelty of Hamas, and the seemingly endless line of terrorists who had to be taken out or put down. I was becoming exhausted by the pretense and risk that had become my daily routine. I wanted a normal life.
Walking along the streets of Ramallah one day in August, I saw a man carrying a computer up a flight of stairs to a repair shop. And it occurred to me that there might be a market for in-home computer maintenance, kind of a Palestinian version of the American Geek Squad. Since I was no longer working for USAID and I had a good business mind, I thought I might as well put it to profitable use.
I had become good friends with the IT manager at USAID, who was a computer wizard. And when I told him about my idea, we decided to become partners. I put up the money, he provided the technological expertise, and we hired a few more engineers, including females so we could serve women in the Arab culture.
We called the company Electric Computer Systems, and I came up with some advertising. Our ads featured a caricature of a guy carrying a computer up some stairs, with his son telling him, “Papa, you don’t have to do that” and urging him to call our toll-free number.
Calls poured in, and we were suddenly very successful. I bought a new company van, we got a license to sell Hewlett-Packard products, and we expanded into networking. I was having the time of my life. At this point I didn’t need the money, but I was doing something productive and having fun.
* * *
Since I had begun my spiritual odyssey, I’d had some interesting conversations with my Shin Bet friends about Jesus and my developing beliefs.
“Believe whatever you want,” they said. “You can share it with us. But don’t share it with anyone else. And don’t ever get baptized, because that would make a very public statement. If anybody found out you became a Christian and turned your back on your Islamic beliefs, you could be in big trouble.”
I don’t think they were as worried about my future as they were about theirs if they lost me. But God was changing my life too much for me to hold back anymore.