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Hamas:
Choosing “Martyrs” and Targets

(Updated May 2002)


Hamas: Table of Contents | Background & Overview | Covenant


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On July 23, 2002, Israeli forces killed Salah Shehade, commander of the operational wing of the terrorist organization Hamas. Following are portions of an interview conducted with Shehade two months earlier.

How to Choose a Martyr

Q: "How do you choose who will carry out a martyrdom operation?"

Shehade: "The choice is made according to four criteria: First, devout religious observance. Second, we verify that the young man complies with his parents' wishes and is loved by his family, and that his martyrdom will not [adversely] affect family life -- that is, he is not the head of the family and he has siblings, as we will not take an only child. Third, his ability to carry out the task assigned [to] him, and to understand its gravity; and fourth, his martyrdom should encourage others to carry out martyrdom operations and encourage Jihad in the hearts of people. We always prefer unmarried [men]…."

Seeking Martyrdom Shows Mental Health

Q: "How do you account for the stream of youths [coming] to join the ranks of perpetrators of martyrdom operations? And does this attest to [mental] health or to escape from the frustration and disappointment among the Palestinians?"

Shehade: "The stream of youths [who seek to] attain martyrdom shows [mental] health and the awareness of Palestinian society, and is not a mistake or an escape from a situation of despair or frustration. Many people come to Jihad, and they are willing to lay down their souls -- which is the most precious thing a man has. There is a vast difference between someone who sacrifices money or an offering and someone who sacrifices his soul for the sake of Allah to bring happiness to the nation, and to remove its torment and distress. Nevertheless, we cannot provide everyone with a martyrdom operation because the targets are limited and the enemy positions we want to reach are highly fortified. If some of the youths do not follow the military apparatus's instructions, and [set out on operations on their own] without being linked officially to this apparatus, this proves that the [entire] nation has become a nation of Jihad on the threshold of liberation, and that it rejects humiliation and submission."

How to Choose a Target

Q: "How does the military apparatus choose a target?"

Shehade: "We have surveillance groups whose role is to monitor Israeli and settler patrols and the movement of the enemy on the border. We utilize every breach we find in the enemy's security fence. Afterwards we define the target and the nature of the assault on it, whether it is a settlement, a military post, a military vehicle, or anything else. The target is filmed, and then [the video] is shown to a committee appointed by the General Staff of the Military Operations. After the target is approved, the martyrdom operation's perpetrator is trained... Then the operation is ready to go, after a group of experts approves the plan and determines the factors for its success or failure."

If We Kill an Israeli Child It Is Not Intentional

Q: "What about killing Israeli citizens?"

Shehade: "We do not target children, the elderly, and places of worship, although these places of worship incite to murdering Muslims. Similarly, we have not targeted schools, because we do not give orders to kill children. The same goes for hospitals, although this is easy for us, and attainable. We act according to the principles of Jihad to which we adhere. Our motto is: 'We are not fighting the Jews because they are Jews, but because they occupy our land. We are not fighting them because of their religion but because they have usurped our land. If we kill a child it is not intentional...'"


Sources: Salah Shehade interview by Islam Online, May 29, 2002
Excerpted and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute

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