Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

From 'Son Of Hamas' To Agent Of Shin Bet

During the 1980s and 1990s, the Yousef family was akin to royalty among Palestinians in the West Bank. Mosab Hassan Yousef's grandfather was a popular imam. And his father was one of the founding members of the militant Islamist group Hamas.

The assumption was that Mosab Hassan Yousef would follow in his father's footsteps. Instead, he became an undercover agent for the Israeli security service, Shin Bet, a decision he explains in his memoir, Son of Hamas.

The book opens in 1996, with the 18-year-old Yousef's arrest by Israeli police. "I was tortured by the Israelis in one of the most scary interrogation facilities that you can imagine, and I was held there for three months," he told NPR's Mary Louise Kelly.

During his imprisonment, members of Shin Bet worked to recruit him. Initially Yousef agreed, thinking he would become a double agent. But the violence he witnessed in prison — Palestinians harming other Palestinians — made Yousef see things differently.

"It opened up big questions in my mind, questioning if Israel is really our enemies. I believed at the time, and I still believe that occupation is a problem. Every nation has its right to establish and decide their destiny. But we had enemies more dangerous than Israel and those enemies lived within us," he said.

Those questions meant that Yousef stayed in touch with the Israelis once he left prison, providing them with insider information on Hamas. Shin Bet gave Yousef a code name, "Green Prince." Green stood for the color of the Hamas flag; prince was a nod to his father — a king within Hamas. He aided in the arrest of many Hamas members, although he abhorred Shin Bet's policy on assassinations.

Mosab Hassan Yousef no longer works for Shin Bet, although he remains in touch with his former handler. He converted from Islam to Christianity and now lives in California. But his dream is to someday be able to go back home.

"I know this sounds impossible at this moment but I love my country," he explained. "I love the people; my family is back there, and I miss them very much. I'm not going to go to hide. I believe in what I'm doing. If the cost is my death, I will be willing to pay this because I could be killed a long time ago for stupid reasons. So today at least, if I die, I will die for a very good reason."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit