Sohaib Hassan Yousef is the second son of Hamas co-founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef to defect to the Israelis from the family which has been one of the hubs of the Islamic movement in the occupied West Bank for decades. The first was the Sheikh’s eldest son Mosab, known as the “Green Prince”.
Working as an agent for more than a decade, Mosab passed secret information about Hamas activities, leaders — including his father — and other secrets during the Second (Al-Aqsa) Intifada to Israel’s internal security agency Shin Bet. After he sought asylum in the US, he renounced his faith and became involved in more anti-Palestine activism and an outspoken critic of Islam, Palestine and the Palestinian resistance. This led his father, who is currently held as a prisoner by Israel, to issue a statement disowning his eldest son and condemning all his collaboration with the occupation authorities.
Mosab’s family boycotted him and stopped all forms of contact. He regretted this estrangement, describing it on several occasions as very difficult because he raised his brothers and sisters as the man of the house because his father spent most of his adult life in prison.
Sheikh Hassan Yousef was elected as an MP for the Hamas list in 2006. He was not affected by his son’s defection and remained a staunch critic of the Israeli occupation. He continued to lead Hamas as its most effective leader and the main source of inspiration for the movement’s members in the occupied West Bank, despite repeated spells in Israeli jails under administrative detention – which allows for “incarceration without trial or charge, alleging that a person plans to commit a future offence and it has no time limit, and the evidence on which it is based is not disclosed.” If this has been meant to break Sheikh Hassan, it has failed.
“Trying to break down this stubborn Hamas leader, Israel is using all of its intelligence and military services to penetrate his home and his soul,” one Hamas supporter close to Hassan Yousef has said. “He is not a normal person, he has been known to Hamas members and all Palestinians who resist the Israeli occupation, as the symbol of resistance and patience.”
Such efforts to break the Sheikh, explained Dr Saleh Al-Naami, a Palestinian academic and expert in Israeli affairs, are part of the attempts to portray a negative image about the icons of the Palestinian resistance.
Last week, Israel’s Channel 12 TV correspondent Ohad Hemo said that he had contacted Sohaib Yousef, who had fled from Turkey to an unnamed Asian country, where he conducted an exclusive interview with him. Hemo claimed that Sohaib, who worked for the Hamas political branch in Turkey, had revealed secrets about the movement’s policies and alleged corruption of its leaders.
In response, the Yousef family issued a statement through younger brother Owais. “My brother [Sohaib] suffers from psychological disorders,” he pointed out as he called for him to return to the occupied West Bank to seek treatment.
According to Sohaib, “Hamas operates security and military operations on Turkish soil under the cover of civil society.” He claimed that these operations are run through security centres “from which they operate advanced listening equipment, to listen to people and leaders in Ramallah.” He said that they spy on Israeli phones, but did not give details.
A senior official close to the movement’s top leader, Ismail Haniyeh, insisted that Sohaib Hassan Yousef has never worked with any Hamas institution abroad, either in Turkey or in any other country. He stressed that Hamas runs only organisations overseas which offer services for all Palestinians in the diaspora.
“It is true that Hamas has several officials and members living in Turkey,” the official agreed, “but they are not involved in political activities because they are being hosted as Palestinian citizens not as Palestinians politicians or resistance activists.” He asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Sohaib charged that Hamas does not work for the interests of the Palestinians through its offices abroad. Its “operatives”, he claimed, spy on Arab states and sell information to Iran in return for financial support. “They were working for a foreign agenda. This isn’t for the Palestinian cause.” The money, he said, gets to Hamas through Turkish banks.
Responding to this claim, the Hamas official said that the main question to ask is why the Israelis have broadcast this interview now. “This is the main point. Hamas is facing challenges in the Arab countries, even in Qatar. It is only feeling comfortable in Turkey and only another Islamic country. Israel wants to push the Turkish authorities to reconsider the Hamas presence there.”
The espionage charges against Hamas and the claims that it is running such operations from offices in Turkey are intended to push Ankara to place restrictions on the movement’s non-political activities. In the main, these provide humanitarian support for Palestinians wounded in Gaza to receive proper medical treatment in Turkish hospitals.
It is worth noting that Qatar’s relationship with Hamas has deteriorated sharply since the movement agreed to hand over control of the Gaza Strip to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority last year after rejecting a Qatari request for this measure and accepting one from Egypt. A lot of Qatari projects in Gaza have lost their funding ever since and are still struggling to find other donors.
Furthermore, Israel wants to get those Arab countries which may still sympathise with Hamas and its work to change their positions. Hence, the interview has been used to plant the seeds of doubt in Arab capitals that Hamas might have been using their territory for intelligence activities against them on behalf of third parties.
Targeting Palestinian resistance in Gaza
Knowing that Hamas is the spearhead of the Palestinian resistance in Gaza, Israel targets it specifically in order to undermine resistance activities. Hence, Sohaib Yousef claimed that Hamas leaders abroad live in luxurious homes and eat in the best restaurants, where the cost of one course is $200.
Although he has never been to Gaza, he explained how difficult life is for the Palestinians in the territory compared with the life of Hamas leaders abroad. He is right that they have suffered a lot, but not because of Hamas control or alleged corruption; it is down to the Israeli-Egyptian siege imposed on the coastal enclave.
He then said that Hamas leaders exploit the Palestinians and send them to carry out attacks on Israel but do not send their own sons, and nor do the leaders themselves take part in such activities against the Israeli occupation. In this Sohaib is just repeating Israeli propaganda. In fact, all of the Hamas leaders have had one, two or more of their family members killed by Israel, either during resistance activities or Israeli attacks on their homes. The Deputy Hamas Chief in Gaza, Dr Khalil Al-Hayyan, for example, saw at least five family members, including his eldest brother, killed in an Israeli attack on his house, and his eldest son was killed during resistance activities in 2012.
Moreover, senior Hamas officials take part in the Great March of Return protests every Friday. Many of them have been wounded, including the Deputy Speaker of the Palestinian Parliament, Ahmad Bahar.
Sohaib Hassan Yousef’s defection created massive popular support on the ground and social media for his father, but Hamas stressed that Israeli attempts to target its leaders and members would never stop. “Israel considers its war with Hamas to be an existential battle,” said the movement. It is likely to be one which will only end when the occupation ends, and not before.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.