Mosab Hassan Yousef has a knack for controversy. The son of Hamas founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef, he has already broken every taboo in the Palestinian book. He has worked for Israeli intelligence and converted to Christianity. Now he is developing a new film which is sure to be no less sensational: a biography of the life of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.
Yousef, 33, broke ranks with Hamas in 1997 and began working for the Israeli internal intelligence service Shin Bet. Ten years later, after helping Israel thwart dozens of terror attacks and arrest many members of his former movement, Yousef left for the United States where he sought political asylum and later converted to Christianity.
Today, he says, he is back in Israel for the first time on a personal visit “to inspire a new generation of Palestinians.”
‘I love Israel because I love democracy,’ Yousef told journalists in Jerusalem
“I love Israel because I love democracy,” he told journalists in Jerusalem Tuesday. “I am here to protest religion’s absolute control of people’s lives.”
Standing next to his retired Shin Bet handler, Gonen Ben-Itzhak, Yousef refused to answer questions in Arabic. He said he was on a mission to educate the public about the true nature of his former religion.
“Islam is not a religion of peace. It’s a religion of war,” he said. “Muslims don’t even know the true nature of their own religion.”
‘He saved many lives and stopped many attacks,’ Ben-Itzhak says. ‘I think that we, as Israelis, must show our gratitude to people like him’
To that end, Yousef decided to produce a film about the touchiest subject of all: the revered prophet of Islam, Muhammad. He says the film is based on a traditional biography of Muhammad written by the eighth-century Muslim historian Ibn Ishaq.
He said the film is unique in that it will be produced by Muslims, “or people of Muslim background,” unlike recent European attempts to tackle the complex historiography of Muhammad. With a written screenplay, guaranteed funding, and a celebrity actor (whose name he would not divulge) in the lead role as Muhammad, Yousef said he hoped filming will commence next year.
“Muhammad is still untouchable,” Yousef said, noting that controversial as it was, Mel Gibson’s 2004 film “The Passion of Christ” touched many people worldwide.
Another film, expected to be produced before “Muhammad,” is a cinematic adaptation of Yousef’s 2010 autobiography “Son of Hamas,” in which he recounts the tale of his cooperation with Israeli intelligence. Yousef said the book was already translated into 25 languages and is available for free download in Arabic on his personal website.
When asked what he would tell his father if he were in the room, Yousef said only: “Leave Hamas. You have created a monster.”
Gonen Ben-Itzhak, Yousef’s handler who appears in the book under his operational pseudonym “Captain Luay,” said he considers Yousef “his brother” and has become his close friend after their professional paths parted in 2004.
“He saved many lives and stopped many attacks,” Ben-Itzhak told The Times of Israel. “I think that we, as Israelis, must show our gratitude to people like him. Even while working for us he was always against bloodshed, on both sides.”
Ben-Itzhak noted that Israeli officials voiced their concern about Yousef’s arrival in Israel as his life is still under threat, but added that Yousef was allowed into the country with neither visa nor passport.
“His story is very unusual,” Ben-Itzhak added. “I can’t recall the last time an ‘asset’ came out like this.”