Book Review: Son of Hamas
It's like Monty Python, only Tragic
Maybe the Life of Brian (1979) will turn out to be the final word on all matters appertaining to the multiple-groupings of Palestinians who struggle to co-exist in the Middle East. Like political parties, affiliations consist of confusing similarities in terms of language, acronyms, ideology, and tactics. But all the same it is hard to laugh. Our religions, cultures, heritages, and upbringings connect many of us to faraway places. There is a lot of heavy breathing today over taking sides and fighting it out between Islamicists and Christians/Jews. But here is a man who discovered rare earth, an in-between land, where reason, respect, and peaceful co-existence can flourish. While spies do not, generally speaking, compel people to open their doors and unfold their red carpets, they can in certain circumstances work the levers of power such that compromises can be accomplished. These could not have otherwise come about. Feelings are too well-defined and apt to overheat. There are those who loathe and fear undercover jobs, but they are mistaken. The author is of a special breed, able to work the system, however unsystematic, to the benefit of those whose lot in life has been less than deserved for a prolonged period of time.
Fathers and Sons
Here is a tale not told by an idiot. Yousef is the son of a founding member of Hamas who willingly collaborated with Israeli intelligence. His main concern was the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip, but he did not condone the way his kin folk generally expressed their grievances under Israeli domination. Instead of acquiring bombs and the like on the sly, or stirring up yet another Intifada, he strove to achieve a mutual commonality inspired by his reading of the New Testament. He loves and respects his father's complete immersion in the Koran, but is also attracted to the Gospel of Matthew. Despite having grown up learning that only the Koran is inerrant, he is affected by Matthew 5:43 and 7:1 -- essentially, to love one's enemies and refrain from judgments.
All the same, involved as he was with Hamas, the organization that is still most influential in Gaza, he landed, as did his father, in Israeli prisons. Readers will probably be offended by descriptions of torture in the Middle East, but it has long since become conventionalized. Some terrorists have had the undesired honor of being tortured by not only Israeli but Palestinian interrogators as well. Both peoples might officially deny it, but its level of believability is difficult to dismiss. His father never remained free for very long periods of time, but Yousef, at some point, began at last to realize that his father was better off incarcerated. In prison he was protected; free he was a constant target for assassination. The author's thinking is quite different from what one usually comes across. For instance, he also does not like Yasser Arafat, but not because the ill-shaven, turbaned old man stood up for Palestinians, but rather because he made himself rich while performing a role that was, in the final analysis, ineffective. Already offended, American readers might bristle at the notion that their tax dollar funded Arafat's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
One is reminded of how William Franklin, Benjamin's son, remained a Loyalist throughout the War of Independence, then later went into exile in England. Blood is not a guarantor of any political position. In this case, however, the overarching goal remains the same. Both father and son attempted to improve the circumstances of Palestinians, some still being kept like cattle in refugee camps. The former employed militant ruses while the latter chose the sometimes denigrated technique of diplomatic means. He might seem to others a traitor, but to maneuver Israel into his debt, a risky procedure, showed a viable way out of a labyrinthine puzzle.
The Obscure Voice of Reason
Till now, we only hear one side, then the other. It is a godsend to listen to the middle, critical of both the harmful use of Israeli rubber bullets as well as the excess of Palestinian leaders driving Audis. Yousef holds Israel accountable for shooting non-militants by mistake and destroying at least one mosque that was two hundred years old. But he is also unimpressed by the way different Palestinian groups compete to hold the funeral services of victims. The millions that Saddam Hussein shelled out to families of the slain also served no real purpose. Yousef was surprised by Shin Bet's incontrovertible evidence that persons he knew simply as persons had become terrorists. But he was helpless to explain to an engineering student, turned suicide bomber, that although a devout Muslim, there were many others, including atheists, who applied themselves toward the dark art of mass murder. Surely not all were destined for direct entry into heaven. But there is nothing squeaky clean about espionage. This much is fully admitted. He relates how he participated in the attempted assassination of a militant member of Fatah. It was not his finest moment. Missiles hit their target, a VW Golf, yet the lone motorist somehow managed to crawl away.
Book World/Real World
Google this book and it becomes clear that Son of Hamas has entered the domain mostly of Christian groups. The mainstream seems to have largely ignored it. I cannot say why. It is, however, a touchy subject. There was, for instance, the 2002 suicide bombing of a Passover being held in a hotel. Hamas claimed responsibility. It set off Operation Defensive Shield, an incursion into the Gaza Strip that killed, injured, and imprisoned Palestinians. At the same time, an Arab Summit was being held in Beirut, which may have also inspired the bombing. What should the average American make of this? The average American is likely to be Christian, possibly observant, possibly lapsed. The Middle East is thousands of miles away. But he or she also knows that terrorism has a long reach. I can only hope that Yousef has at least shown a possible approach that aims at the middle ground. It requires full admission on both sides of having committed errors, but with a mutually renewed dedication to finding solutions, one at a time, that will gradually evolve into a lasting peace. Believe me, I know how silly this sounds. But that is why peacemakers are blessed.