Salah Shehade was one of the founders of Hamas and the commander of its military wing. He was directly responsible for hundreds of attacks committed against Israeli citizens and its security forces over the past two years. These have resulted in death and injury to large numbers of people. Quite simply, in recent years, Shehade had been the central figure in Hamas's organization. And, it is known that Shehade was planning further severe acts of terror.
Israeli security officials have stated that Shehade was closely associated with most of the terrorist activities in the Gaza area, whether in planning them himself or in their approval. To take just two examples of these wanton acts: the killing of four soldiers at the IDF posting nicknamed "Africa" (January 9, 2002) and the slaughter of 5 high school students at Atzmona (March 7, 2002).
Shehade mobilized the Hamas leaders in the West Bank, and served as the main link with Hamas officials' abroad. Shehade also led the efforts to manufacture rockets with the aim of directing them at the heart of Israel. He personally oversaw the production and purchase of armaments.
Over the course of two years, Israeli authorities made dozens of requests to the Palestinian Authority to take measures against Shehade's activities. The Palestinian Authority, however, permitted him as well as other Hamas operatives to operate freely.
Salah Shehade was born in Gaza on February 24, 1953. He obtained a secondary school certificate, but his financial circumstances did not allow him to pursue his university education, although he got admitted to study medicine and engineering in Turkish and Russian universities. Shehade studied in the Higher Institute for Social Service in Alexandria.
Shehade worked as a social worker in Arish, and later was appointed as supervisor of social affairs in Arish. When Israel gave the Sinai to Egypt after signing a peace treaty, Shehade was transferred to work as supervisor of social affairs in Gaza. Shehade resigned from his work in 1982, and worked in the students affairs department of the Islamic University in Gaza and began his radical Islamist activities.
In 1984, Israeli security forces arrested him due to his involvement in hostile activities against Israel. After he was released from prison in 1986, he joined forces with Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Together, they decided to create a secret "military apparatus" called the "Palestinian Jihad Fighters" (Almuj'yhadin Al-Palestinin) which formed the basis for the establishment of Hamas and its military wing Iz Adin al-kassam in December 1987. In 1988, Shehade was re-arrested by Israeli authorities and was accused of establishing a terror cell, training terrorists in weapons-use and giving orders to carry out terror attacks. After his release from an Israeli prison in 2000, Shehade returned to his position as the commander of the military wing of Hamas, which carried out thousands of terror attacks, including dozens of suicide attacks against Israeli targets in recent years.
For the two years before he was killed, Shehade planned, developed and cultivated the terrorist infrastructure for Hamas' military wing, Iz Adin al-kassam. He stood behind the creation of the Hamas field-command, which operated in different areas. He was instrumental in helping Hamas arm itself with advanced weapons, such as anti-tank missiles, made locally and smuggled illegally into the Palestinian territories. Additionally, he was responsible for collecting money from Islamic organizations all over the world to support the terrorist activities of Hamas.
Shehade saw all of "historic Palestine" as holy Islamic territory, which had a religious obligation to be freed completely and immediately from Jews. Based on this opinion, he was opposed to all negotiations with Israel, even those that would lead to a Palestinian state on only part of "historic Palestine."
Shehade carried the banner of the Islamic extremists who saw the Jihad (Islamic war against non-believers) as the preferred way to achieve political objectives. The Jihad is seen as the centerpiece of this strategy, which includes uncompromising armed struggle that would permit a reconquering of Palestine. In this framework, he saw that suicide attacks were the highest expression of the Jihad, and felt that all Israelis, including civilians, are legitimate targets in the "struggle."
[Shehade] saw it as a mark of honor for Palestinian youths, willing to volunteer for suicide attacks. He supported them fully in this path, and even established a "youth wing" within Hamas that provided military education and training for youths preparing for suicide missions. Shehade also provided the principles for the religious approval for using women and young girls as suicide terrorists.
On July 23, 2002, Israeli forces killed Salah Shehade when they bombed his house in Gaza City.
Sources: Salah Shehade interview by Islam Online, (May 29, 2002), excerpted and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute
Background information on Shehade provided by the Israel Defense Forces, reported by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, (July 24, 2002)
Background and photo from the Palestine Information Center