It isn’t every day that a Hamas member turns his back on the terror organization, flies to Southeast Asia and decides to expose the corruption and inner workings of its operations in Turkey in an interview with an Israeli TV journalist.
It’s even more incredible when he’s the son of one of Hamas’s founding members. And it’s almost unthinkable when he’s the second of that founder’s sons to escape the clutches of the Islamist group and go public with his story.
According to an interview broadcast Wednesday on Israel’s Channel 12, that’s exactly what happened.
Suheib Yousef — son of Hamas co-founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef, and brother of Mosab Yousef, who became know as the “Green Prince” for his efforts to help the Shin Bet thwart terror attacks — secretly left his post in Turkey and flew to an unnamed country in Asia.
He then got in touch with the Palestinian affairs correspondent for Israel’s Channel 12, Ohad Hemo, to tell his story.
Meeting at first in a mosque, Yousef, 38, described how he worked for Hamas’s “political branch” in Turkey, which was in reality an intelligence gathering operation. He was working for Hamas until a month ago, the TV channel said.
“Hamas operates security and military operations on Turkish soil under the cover of civil society,” said Yousef. “They have security centers from which they operate advanced listening equipment, to listen to people and (Palestinian) leaders in Ramallah.”
“They have advanced equipment and computer programs to do it,” he said. When asked if the group also listened to Israeli phone conversations, he said yes, but did not want to give further details. Yousef said it also targeted other Arab countries.
But he charged that Hamas was not working in the interests of the Palestinian people.
“They were working for a foreign agenda. This isn’t for the Palestinian cause. Instead, they sell the information to Iran in return for financial assistance,” he said, noting that the money came through Turkish banks.
Yousef said this was just one of the areas where he became disillusioned with the Gaza-based Hamas, saying its activities were only aimed at spreading its power to the West Bank.
Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, took control of Gaza in 2007, ousting the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority in a bloody coup.
He said the setup in Turkey was also used to conscript people, including children, in the West Bank to carry out terror attacks against Israelis.
“The point of the attacks in the West Bank is to kill civilians, not for the aim of resistance, nor Jerusalem; not for liberating Palestinian land, and not even because they hate Jews,” he told the TV channel. “They send out these innocents because they want to export the crisis [from Gaza] to the West Bank.”
Yousef said he had also become increasingly angry at the corruption of senior Hamas people living in luxury in Turkey while Gaza suffered.
“Hamas leaders [in Turkey] live in fancy hotels and luxury towers, their kids learn at private schools and they are very well paid by Hamas. They get between four and five thousand dollars a month, they have guards, swimming pools, country clubs,” he said.
“When I lived in Turkey I was shocked by the behavior of the Hamas members. They ate in the best restaurants, I would see them eating at places where it one course cost $200,” he said. “They loved to invite each other out for these meals.”
“They pay $200 for one course for one person and a family in Gaza lives on $100 per month?” he said.
The average wage in Gaza, where unemployment is over 50 percent, is around $360 a month, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. The United Nations frequently warns the Strip is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis, with limited access to electricity and clean drinking water.
Since 2007, Israel and Egypt have imposed a blockade on Gaza, which they say is intended to prevent Hamas from importing weapons and materials that can be used for building tunnels and fortifications.
“I was raised in Hamas, I worked for Hamas, but when I was exposed to corruption, I left, I cut off ties,” he said.
Yousef said that while he was aware Hamas might try to kill him for coming out, he was not worried.
“If they want to make me a martyr, I’ll be a martyr,” he said.
What makes Yousef’s story particularly compelling is that his father is Hassan Yousef, a co-founder of the group in the West Bank who has spent nearly a third of his life in Israeli jails.
And his elder brother Mosab — who is known as the “Green Prince,” after the color of the Hamas flag and his once-royal place within the movement — walked the same path before him in dramatic fashion.
Mosab spent about a decade working as an agent for the Israeli Shin Bet security service at the height of the Second Intifada suicide-bomber onslaught — as his father’s right-hand man, security chief and most trusted confidant, secretly passing on information he gleaned to help Israel in its battle against terror.
He has since become estranged from his father, sought asylum in the US and converted to Christianity. He published an autobiography titled “Son of Hamas” in 2010.
But Suheib Yousef was quick to distance himself from his brother’s actions.
“Unlike my brother, I never worked for Israel,” he said. “I never betrayed [Hamas], I was loyal to them.”
He said he was investigated after his brother’s treachery and found to have had no connection to Israel, so he was allowed to continue working for Hamas.
With his father, things are more complicated.
Suheib Yousef said he hoped his father would respect his new political views “as I honored his views for 40 years.”
He also urged him to open his eyes to the reality of what the movement he founded had become.
“I call on the leaders of Hamas, including my father, to resign from this corrupt Hamas movement,” he said. “I’m sure my father also knows there are many corrupt members.”
Yousef conceded that he was concerned his father “may be harmed by my words, but I want to expose the truth.”
Throughout the interview, Yousef reiterated he had no problem with Jews, at one point buying the interviewer a coconut and saying: “You are people of the Book and we are Muslims and we have no animosity toward you.”
He said his main motivation was to help the Palestinian people by exposing the true face of Hamas.
“The problem in Gaza is that Hamas hangs on to power by force. If Hamas gave up power, there would be no problems,” he said, accusing the group’s corrupt leaders of using the people of Gaza as cannon fodder for their ambitions.
“I want them to send their own children to carry out attacks if they have to. Why doesn’t [Hamas leader] Ismail Haniyeh go to the fence to throw stones?” he asked, referring to weekly protests along the Gaza-Israel border organized by Hamas.
“How does Hamas benefit from these attacks? Nothing,” he said. “It is a racist terror organization that is dangerous for the Palestinian people.”