Hamas: Terrorists or not?

This story originally appeared at themedialine.org.

The advocate general of the European Union recommended on September 22 that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) remove Hamas, the Palestinian organization which rules the Gaza Strip, from the EU’s terrorist list.

The list, which was established by the European Council after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001, includes a number of organizations such as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and Hizbullah in Lebanon. Hamas’s so-called military wing was first put on the list in 2001 with the addition of its political faction in 2003.

“The EU looks at this in practical terms because 11 years of isolating Hamas and not recognizing it did not achieve much, it didn’t bring a better situation to Gaza and it didn’t bring down Hamas,” Yossi Mekelberg, an associate fellow at Chatham House, a London-based think tank, and a professor at Regents University in London, told The Media Line. “There are a lot of smaller measures that have a cumulative effect of recognizing Palestine as a state and this is a signal to Israel that the current situation can’t survive forever.”

Some Israelis view the EU with suspicion, especially as they fund Palestinian projects in the West Bank, and see this attempt at removing Hamas from the terrorist list as another way in which the EU is promoting Palestinian self-determination and independence.

Hamas – an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (Islamic Resistance Movement) – was founded in 1987 during the First Intifada (a period of unrestrained violence by Palestinians against Israelis), by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. He established the organization as a political arm of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group. The organization, led by Qatar-based Khaled Meshaal, has ruled the Gaza Strip since winning elections in 2006 and violently ousting its Fatah rivals.

“Hamas was first put on the list because they are a terrorist organization,” Emmanuel Nahson, a spokesperson for the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, commenting of the EU advocate general’s recommendation. “And, this has been demonstrated time and time again.”

There is a Hamas Charter, Nahson added, which outlines that the main goals of Hamas are to establish a Shari’a-based regime for all of Palestine and the destruction of Israel.

According to Shadi Othman, the communication and information officer for the EU office in the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas petitioned the ECJ to remove them from the list in 2014.

In response, the ECJ ruled that Hamas should be taken off of the terrorist list. The court decided that officials had based policies on news reports and internet findings instead of legal reasoning when determining the status of Hamas and the Gaza Strip. The EU council appealed that decision, but the advocate general court has now recommended that the original court decision to remove Hamas from the list remain.

“They should, actually, remove Hamas from the list because it is not a terrorist organization, but a liberation movement,” Ahmed Yousef, a spokesperson for Hamas asserted to The Media Line. “Being on the list means that (the EU) is not interested in talking to Hamas. And, keeping them isolated is not good for peace and security in the region.”

“Being off the list means that the EU is interested in opening channels with the Islamists,” Yousef added.  

Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by both the EU and the United States, especially for its violent uprisings against Israel and Israeli rule in the West Bank during the First and Second Intifadas in the late 1980s and early 2000s.

Yousef explained that Hamas has struggled for self-determination. Everyone around the world is fighting for their rights. For example, Algeria is not a terrorist organization because they fought the French.

Some observers hope that if the EU does decide to remove Hamas from the terrorist list, this would pressure Israel to include Hamas in negotiations, just as Jerusalem did with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in negotiating the 1993 Oslo Accords.  

According to a spokesman for the EU delegation in Tel Aviv, the EU is now awaiting the final decision of the court of justice.

Katie Beiter is a student journalist at The Media Line