Paris is a city comprised
of neighborhoods, known as arrondissements, which are numbered in an unusual spiral pattern beginning in the historic center of the city. The famed Jewish quarter, the Marais, is located in the 4th arrondissement. Its quaint cobblestoned streets are filled with kosher bakeries and falafel shops, as multitudes of Orthodox Jews go about their business in this trendy part of town. The 11th arrondissement, home to a sizable Muslim population, is situated to the northeast of the 4th. It is one of the most densely populated urban areas, not only in France but in all of Europe.
The two neighborhoods could not be more different.
It was in the 11th arrondissement that Abu Hamza, a Jordanian businessman of Palestinian origin, located the blue-painted doorway of the Omar Ibn al-Khattab Mosque he had been looking for and entered. The mosque, reputed to be one of the most dangerous in the city, is a jihad stronghold with close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. It is also a breeding ground for terrorists, funded by the financial support it receives from all over the Muslim world. Last spring it achieved notoriety as the place where the Malian thug who murdered Dr. Sarah Halimi, hy”d, was indoctrinated. In a fit of rage, the African-born Islamist had entered the apartment of the only known Jewish family in the building. He then beat the 65-year-old retired Jewish doctor while reciting verses from the Quran and threw her out the third-story window. The crime continues to be politically controversial.
Walking into the mosque, the bearded Abu Hamza looked like your typical wealthy Muslim, dressed in an expensive brown suit, gray button-down shirt, dark framed eyeglasses and an embroidered skullcap called a taqiyah. He’d ostensibly come to speak to the mosque’s clerics and make a monetary contribution to the Muslim Brotherhood, which he believed was doing holy work in France. Abu Hamza was accompanied by a man with a long red bead who spoke no Arabic and was introduced as a Bosnian who was Abu Hamza’s loyal assistant.
For the first few minutes the atmosphere was respectful, but then something intangible changed in the air, a sudden shift in attitude in the people around him. Abu Hamza signaled to his assistant that they should leave as quickly as possible, and the two men fled the building. Although the mosque’s security guards gave chase, Abu Hamza and the red-bearded man got into a waiting taxi and were able to lose their pursuers as the car wove in and out of the narrow alleyways.
After their harrowing escape, the two men disappeared into a shtiebel in the Marais to daven Minchah, adding the extra tefillah of Birkas Hagomel.
As it turned out, Abu Hamza was actually undercover Israeli journalist Zvi Yehezkeli, an Arab affairs correspondent for Israel’s Channel 10. The “Bosnian” was Israeli writer and director Ohad Gal-Oz.
“It was a very dangerous moment,” recalls Yehezkeli. “There’s a very fine line between safety and calamity. All of a sudden we were surrounded by suspicious security men who started to block the doors to prevent us from leaving. We fled through a side exit to where our taxi was waiting for us. They followed us but we escaped.”
The two men had been working together in a covert operation, infiltrating mosques and Islamic communities across Europe to expose how Islam is quietly trying to seize control of the West. While most of the world finally understands that ISIS and its sister ideological groups are a threat and have united to opposite them, another quieter jihad is now being waged by the Muslim Brotherhood. According to Islamic teachings, this is the “apocalyptic jihad” whereby Islam takes over the West by infiltrating the broader society through subversion rather than by declaring battle.
“You’re most likely to hear the truth in a free society, not in a dictatorial state like Syria. It’s only after those guys move to Europe that they freely say what they think. They have no intention of simply living in a democracy; they want to destroy democracies.”
On one occasion, Yehezkeli, obviously in disguise, asked a member of a jihadist group which country was currently most similar to his dreams for the West. “Which country comes closest to embodying your point of view?” he wanted to know.
“Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen,” the man replied. “These countries are 100% under Muslim rule. The people there are safe. Pakistan, too, and Waziristan.”
In another clip, a voice is being broadcast over a loudspeaker somewhere in London. The voice belongs to Anjem Choudary, the head of a different European Islamic organization. “This is a call to all Muslims,” he says. “Islam will never die. The sharia will never die! The jihad will never die! Sheikh Osama bin Laden died a shahid [Muslim martyr]! We will institute the Quran in Brussels and in all of Europe. And one day, inshallah, a group will arise and fly a flag that says ‘There is no G-d but All-h’ from the White House!”
Zvi, who is fluent in Arabic, blends in easily on his undercover missions, thanks to a father who was born in Iraq and mother who is also from the Middle East, having been born on the way from Kurdistan to Israel. Before each mission he is coached by the Mossad and the Shin Bet, receiving a new name, passports, and a new look. When it’s time to leave, he kisses his children goodbye and checks in with his family afterwards to tell them he’s okay. They do not know the nature of his missions or how dangerous they really are.
Yehezkeli’s undercover work has been featured in a series of documentaries that aired on Israeli TV. For a while he was disguised as a Syrian refugee traveling from Turkey to Germany. Most recently he has infiltrated Muslim groups in the United States, where he learned some of his most surprising revelations.
After the airing of the latest documentary, his face became too familiar to travel safely in the region. But his experiences have certainly made him one of the most qualified people to comment on Arab affairs in the world.
His First Mission
How does one come to embark on such a career? After his military service in the Israeli Intelligence Corps, the Jerusalem-born Yehezkeli served as a security guard at Israeli embassies and missions around the world. He also studied Arabic and communications at the Hebrew University. He believes that it is incumbent upon all Israelis to learn Arabic. “We live right here in the region but we’re cut off from reality because of linguistics. If we knew Arabic, we would understand the Middle East a lot better. Also, as a side benefit, knowledge of Arabic would be helpful in studying Gemara because it’s close to Aramaic,” he says.
After finishing his studies, he became a reporter for Galei Tzahal radio and then moved to television news. And while he mostly covers Arab affairs, he has also presented Jewish programming with Rabbi Erez Moshe Doron in partnership with other Breslov rabbis. Yehezkeli now lives in the settlement of Bat Ayin, and his children attend the cheder in the nearby town of Beitar Illit.
Yehezkeli’s first documentary, entitled “All-h Islam” came out in 2012. That’s when he went undercover for the first time among the Muslim immigrant communities in Europe. His exposé revealed the process of radicalization, the calls for jihad and the clash of cultures between Muslim immigrants and Europeans.
“Our investigation pretty much predicted what would happen shortly afterward: the emergence of Daesh [the Arab acronym for Islamic State/ISIS] that recruited volunteers from all over Europe. Some of the people I spoke to later became leaders of groups like Sharia 4 Belgium that organized terror attacks all over the continent.”
The information Yehezkeli gathered was later used by security and intelligence services in Europe. “I cannot reveal anything specific,” he says, “but when you try to crack a terrorist group you have to study the photographs. You identify one terrorist and then everyone else he associates with until you crack the network. Unfortunately, although I alerted Europe—and specifically France—about the terrorist movements that were flourishing right under their noses, my warnings fell on deaf ears. No one took my words seriously until Daesh emerged on the scene. Now, however, whenever I meet with government officials they believe me.”
Having been routed from the Middle East, ISIS is currently looking for new bases, mainly in Afghanistan and Sinai, where it already has strongholds. The group is no longer able to carry out attacks in Europe because the local intelligence services have improved their methods of protection. ISIS members are being arrested in increasingly greater numbers, and there are more policemen in the streets and beefed-up security at airports.
“Nonetheless,” he warns, “the next stage is coming. The number of attacks may be down, but radical Islam is growing in the West. The ‘silent jihad’ of the Muslim Brotherhood is gaining in power. The world has to be made to understand what’s taking place in plain sight: Islamization, radical education, recruiting foreigners and religious extremism. The Europeans are clueless about what’s coming. They are so blindly committed to the principle of freedom of religion that they don’t understand that they’re being preyed upon.”
Exposing the Silent Jihad
Determined to expose the danger of “silent jihad,” Yehezkeli decided to infiltrate the Muslim Brotherhood. But in order to do so he would need a film director, which ultimately led him to Ohad Gal-Oz.
With the help of intelligence personnel, Yehezkeli underwent undercover training, toured a mosque and even learned the Muslim prayers. “We consulted with a rav every step of the way regarding what a Jew is permitted to do. For example, I was advised that if I was ever offered food I should decline and say I had a stomachache.”
The two men traveled frequently between Turkey, Germany, France and the United States. Yehezkeli would go out into the field with secret recording equipment, while Ohad would be sitting in the production van watching and directing the activity.
“I had a special camera in my eyeglasses and another hidden in my lapel. There was also an agent of Muslim origin who was similarly equipped with recording devices. Ohad only joined us on the street occasionally, whenever we needed someone who could pass for a hipster or a European-looking Muslim. Only once did he ever arouse suspicion, when a man approached him and accused him of being an Israeli.”
One of their most frightening encounters occurred in Turkey. They’d just set out on a walk through the Syrian neighborhood of Ayoub in the heart of Istanbul when they were almost immediately surrounded by Turkish policemen who questioned what they were doing there and detained them. “We were really afraid. At best they would confiscate our equipment; at worst we would go to jail,” Ohad recalls.
The members of President Erdogan’s security detail were able to calm down the suspicious police officers, and the Israelis were subsequently released. “It was amazing that no one actually searched us. If they’d frisked me and found my secret recording devices and fake passport I could have been arrested as an Israeli spy. We would have been there for a very long time,” says Yehezkeli.
The Threat in the West
The whole point of all this fact-finding is to alert the West; Yehezkeli has no interest in working in the Muslim capitals. “The Arab countries have already self-destructed; there’s nothing left. Have you seen what’s going on in Syria or Libya? Yemen is also crumbling. The Muslim Brotherhood is already outlawed in the more moderate countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. They understood that it was dangerous, so the jihad moved westward.
“The Muslim Brotherhood demands the imposition of Sunni Islam upon the countries in which it operates, turning their social and constitutional structures into systems that are governed by sharia law. Their slogan is ‘Islam is the Solution,’ with all of the radicalization that follows suit.”
While the Western countries have yet to grasp what’s going on, most Arab countries do understand what’s happening. In 2012 the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, won the Egyptian presidential elections. He remained in power until a military coup ousted him the following year.
Another example of Europe’s unwillingness to confront the danger is that while many Arab countries have banned the sermons of radical Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, in France his recordings are everywhere. In the sheikh’s own words:
“The West has technological superiority but is morally inferior. We [Islam] have technological inferiority but moral superiority.” He assures his followers that the conquest of Rome [the Christian West] will take place without the necessity of war, but rather as a result of Islamic piety.
“There are already ten million Muslims living in France,” adds Ohad. “It’s an Islamic state within a state. There are cafés that are for men only and the streets are separated by gender. Money flows from the mosques directly to Hamas. They have their own educational system and halal food regulators. This is in addition to the blatant anti-Semitism that is constantly being heard from the imams about Al-Aqsa and Jerusalem, designed to arouse hatred for Israel and the Jews.”
As to some similarities that religious Muslim and chareidi societies seem to share—such as separation between the genders and other aspects of daily life—Ohad points out, “There’s a crucial difference. Judaism wants to have a positive influence on the world, whereas Islam wants to take control of it. Jews have no interest in conquering territory in the name of Judaism. Islam’s goal, however, is to gain power. As a Muslim Brotherhood leader once explained, the objective is ‘to spread Islam, and after we become strong we will be able to act.’ It’s all about power, coercion and terrorism.
“The Muslim Brotherhood gains adherents through proselytizing, which they term da’wa. But religious Islam isn’t the problem; it’s political Islam that causes all the trouble. No one cares if they want to pray, but in a few years France is going to have a Muslim prime minister. In Denmark it will happen in a decade, and in Belgium it will happen even more quickly because Belgians have a 1% birthrate while the refugees have five children each and are supported by the state. In Germany, the local population and birth rate are declining as well. Over the next 20 to 30 years Islam is going to be a dominant factor there, too. Europe is slowly building a giant mosque, and once built it will never be torn down. In the United States the Muslim minority constitutes no more than 2% of the population but its power is growing, and in due time will surpass the Jews in numbers and influence.
“There is so much to done, but the first step involves simply opening our eyes,” Yehezkeli laments. “People have to understand what’s going on in the mosques, why a Muslim child in England learns that her neighbors are infidels and should be treated with contempt. I put a mirror in front of Europe so it can see what it’s up against, but so far it has chosen to remain asleep. In France, the security officials are slowly waking up. Someone recently asked what percentage of the inmates in French jails are Muslim. Well, of course you’re not allowed to actually count them, because that would be Islamophobia! So they checked the percentage of inmates who were getting halal meals, and it was 75% of the prison population!
“What’s happening in Europe is going to explode in their faces, and because of us they won’t be able to claim that they didn’t know. The Europeans historically have a preference for avoiding confrontation. I really hope they wake up before it’s too late.”
“It’s hard to say what brought me to Judaism,” he confesses. “I really couldn’t pinpoint a single event. It’s a process that is not always completely understood or clear.
“Before I became religious, I met an Arab who was in custody for a violent crime. He asked me what I was, and I answered that I was an Israeli. Then I said, ‘I’m also an Ivri,’ and then added that I was Arabic as well, because that was my language and culture. ‘I guess I’m a man of the world,’ I concluded.
“The Arab was surprised. ‘But are you a Jew?’ he wanted to know. I told him that I didn’t feel particularly Jewish, probably because I hadn’t had a Jewish education.
“‘How stupid you are!’ he replied. If I shot you I’d say that I killed a Jew, not an Israeli. In my eyes you are a Jew and nothing more. If I killed you, you would die for something you are not. What a stupid way to die.’ That got me thinking.
“Then I had an accident and wound up in the hospital. I had plenty of time to think about my future. After I recovered, I decided to go to Dharamsala in India. On my way there I traveled through Ukraine, and some of my friends suggested that I go to Uman, where there was going to be some sort of big celebration. I ended up spending four days over Rosh Hashanah in Uman, and it was an amazing experience. Afterwards I continued on to India but I took along every book by Rebbe Nachman that I could carry, plus a Tanach. I remained in India for a month, sitting and learning Torah. It was time to make a decision. In the past I’d always wanted to visit Iran and Saudi Arabia, even Syria. That was my dream. But now I had an even greater dream: to be a good Jew. I wanted to raise a Jewish family. I realized that even the best university education couldn’t do it for me. I needed a heart that was open, which wasn’t possible until I read the words of Rebbe Nachman. They spoke directly to my heart and I was captivated.
“For me, Breslov is a way of life. The teachings of the Rebbe encompass simple things like being happy, having emunah and spending time alone with Hashem. When we work with secular production people, our behavior sometimes seems strange to them, but then, as they are exposed to it they became intrigued. We now have a tradition that all of our production staff, including the ones who aren’t officially observant, go to the Rebbe’s kever in Uman.
“Breslov teachings also give you an inner confidence so I am able to enter Islamic strongholds, although I try not to cross the line that would put me in danger. I’m still working on my bitachon. Some people are capable of casting all their burdens onto Hashem, and I’m working to get to that level.”
“I first met Ohad when he was at the beginning of his journey,” says Yehezkeli. “He had recently grown a long beard and peiyot. When I asked him what happened, he told me that he’d stopped directing films, as it no longer suited him. That’s when I had the idea that we should collaborate and work together.”
Ohad was born 48 years ago in Beer Sheva. When he was six years old his older brother passed away, an experience that left him with difficult theological questions. Looking back, he realizes that it meant he was thinking about G-d from an early age.
After serving in the Nahal Brigade in Mitzpe Ramon, Ohad studied directing and scriptwriting and had a lucrative career in television. But his personal life was less successful, as he and his wife were childless. “I promised Hashem that if He gave us a child I would start putting on tefillin every day. Baruch Hashem, he answered my prayers. I learned how to put on tefillin from the Internet, and I began davening every day by saying Shemoneh Esrei. After my father died, I resolved to say Kaddish, which eventually led me to a greater involvement with Yiddishkeit.”
Later, when the opportunity presented itself, he decided to devote himself full time to study and self-improvement in a Breslov institution. “I felt that the Rebbe was speaking to me personally and understood my distress. I decided that it was time to take on the mitzvos, and I basically abandoned my secular professional life. It no longer seemed right for me.
“Still, a voice in my head kept saying, ‘This is your profession, your parnasah.’ I was confused until I met Zvi and he told me about his project. Although I’d never had a particular interest in politics and actually avoided it, I could tell that this mission was important and that it served a valid purpose.”