The Amazing Story of an American Jew
A Satmar Hasid moved to Israel from Brooklyn, but became disenchanted with teachings of Ovadiah Yosef; he converted to Islam and now supports Hamas.
Yosuf Hatab says that suicide bombings are unavoidable and that a Palestinian state should be established from the Mediterranean until the Jordan River. Hatab sends his children to a kindergarten run by Hamas and believes that allegations about Osama bin Laden’s terrorist activities are part of a Jewish plot. The opinions are common among Palestinians, but Hatab is a former Satmar Hasid from Brooklyn.
Yosef (Leonard) Cohen, 36, made Aliyah and settled with his family in Israel four years ago. Cohen fell under the spell of Shas and its charismatic leader, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef. The new immigrant soon became disenchanted with Shas politics, began learning about the Koran and eventually converted to Islam. Today, he lives in East Jerusalem. The story of Cohen’s conversion from Shas to Hamas was reported [recently] on Israeli Channel Ten television, and in Yediot Aharonot. “Ovadiah Yossef brought us to Israel,” Hatab says, “and because of Ovadiah Yosef, today we are Muslims.”
Cohen, his wife and four children settled in the Gush Katif settlement of Gadid in the Gaza Strip. The ultra-Orthodox family eventually moved to Netivot; their newborn son was given the name Ovadiah in honor of the Shas leader. The children studied in religious schools that were part of the Shas network, and even excelled in their studies, Yediot Aharonot reported.
Cohen helped the community by distributing food to needy families; some of the food was also given to Arabs living in the area. In his spare time, Cohen surfed the Internet, and that was where he was first exposed to Islam and the Koran.
Cohen began participating in an Internet “chat” with a person who identified himself only as “Zada.” The more the two chatted, the more Cohen became curious about Islamic traditions and philosophy. Eventually, Cohen discovered that “Zada” was actually a Muslim religious cleric from the United Arab Emirates. Cohen was strongly influenced by his Internet friend, who helped him connect with Muslim religious leaders in east Jerusalem.
Yediot Aharonot reported that Cohen’s wife, Lana, also began to study and find interest in Islam. She told the paper that the religion provided her with the “meaning of life.” Finally, Cohen and his wife, and their four young children, appeared at a Muslim religious court in east Jerusalem and were converted to Islam.
The family moved to the Arab a-Tur neighborhood in east Jerusalem. Yosef Cohen changed his name to Yosuf Hatab, and the four children received new names as well. Ezra, 12, became Abed el-Aziz; Hasida, 8, became Hasiba; Rachamim, 6, became Abed el-Hamir; and Ovadiah Cohen, 4, received the name Abdallah Hatab.
Today Yosuf wears a Jalabia and his wife, Lana, wears a traditional Muslim head covering. The children spend their days in the “Al Aqsa” day camp run by Hamas near the Temple Mount in the Old City. The family members pray feverishly according to Muslim tradition, and the children speak Arabic as fluently as their Palestinian neighbors.
The Yediot Aharonot report did not fully explain Hatab’s decision to convert to Islam, or why he became so radical in his beliefs. Today, what bothers Hatab is the Interior Ministry’s refusal to change the listing of his religion on his identity card to Muslim. “What would happen if I would die tomorrow? They could end up burying me as a Jew.”