Hamas has embarked on a dubious public-relations campaign to show that it did not deliberately attack civilians during the December 2008/January 2009 war with Israel.
Earlier this month, Hamas claimed the killing and wounding of Israeli civilians during the conflict (which it calls the "Battle of al-Furqan") was unintentional. The terror group later denied having apologized for Israeli civilian deaths and casualties.
Careful analysis of Hamas' behavior shows that targeting civilians is an integral component of its struggle against Israel. Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, writes that Hamas internal publications and propaganda aimed at Arab audiences have long applauded the killing of Israeli civilians.
For example, an Arabic-language article on the website of the Qassam Brigades (Hamas' military wing) discussed rocket operations during the al-Furqan battle and cites the heroism of the Qassam Brigades personnel who conducted the attacks.
During the Gaza war, the Qassam Brigades "launched some 600 rockets against Israel. This was high-trajectory fire by inherently inaccurate weapons, covering a broad swath of southern Israel," White wrote. "Targets included the major cities of Ashdod, Ashqelon, and Beersheba (combined population 850,000) as well as numerous smaller towns and settlements."
White quotes from Hamas's own chronology of rocket attacks directed at southern Israeli towns and settlements, which makes no distinction between civilian and military targets. They include entries like this one for January 2, 2009: "Al Qassam Brigades and resistance groups bombard Ashqelon and other Zionist towns and settlements, which led to the wounding of four Zionists."
Senior Hamas officials like Khaled Meshaal frequently cite "resistance" as a principal means of achieving the organization's goals. In a January 22, 2010 speech, Meshaal declared that Hamas would "refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the Zionist entity" and would focus on "building and developing the resistance."
Many observers dismiss such statements as empty rhetoric. But White says that would be a mistake.
"Resistance and jihad are mutually reinforcing concepts, and Hamas uses them to legitimize acts of violence against civilian occupiers, including rocket attacks and terrorism. These are essentially offensive, not defensive concepts - the usurped land must be fought for, and the usurpers driven from it," according to White. "Hamas views attacks on civilians as legitimate, appropriate, effective, and even heroic. Such strikes are fundamental to its operations - part of the Hamas way of war."