Studies 09 July, 2015

Hamas: Between Efforts to Politicize the Court and Demands of Justice

Adeeb Ziadeh

​Adib Ziada is a Palestinian academic whose research focuses on European Union policy towards the Middle East. He is an Assistant Professor at the University of Exeter in the UK. Ziada has submitted refereed research papers to a number of academic conferences on European Union policy towards the Middle East and towards Palestinian refugees. He is the author of a book on the origins of the Palestinian refugees living in West Bank refugee camps.


For the two contending sides in any conflict, the give-and-take of pain-inducing blows is somewhat a given. Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, has suffered a good many such blows over the course of its history. The punches that its military division dealt its Israeli adversary in the 2014 battle it had named “the scattered remnants” (al-‘Asf al-Ma’koul), shattered the Israeli army’s pride. The latest blow by Hamas, however, is perhaps the most prominent and most devastating of blows delivered to Israel in recent times: in the midst of Hamas’ commemorations of the 27th anniversary of the movement’s launch, the European General Court, on December 17, 2014, surprised observers with its decision to drop Hamas from the EU’s list of terrorist organizations. The decision jolted European and Israeli circles alike, a remarkable development with repercussions that merit examination.

The Tamil Tigers: Precedent at the European Court     

In May 2006 the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were put on the European Union’s list of terrorist organizations ,[1] following the decision of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland and the Netherlands to designate the guerilla organization as terrorist. On January 13, 2011, the Tigers filed an appeal against the decision, successfully appealing the case to the European court and taking advantage of the very international conventions and relevant treaties of the European Union itself[2]. On October 16, 2014, well before the decision on Hamas, the European Court issued a judgment, the first of its kind, annulling the procedures that had been used by the Council of the European Union to place the Tamil Tigers on the European terrorism list.  In the background to this decision, the Court offered the same justifications it would later put forward with Hamas, using almost the exact same wording it did with the Tamil Tigers, to the extent that that a reader might easily confuse the two courts’ verdicts.

As expected, the decision encountered severe opposition from the Sri Lankan government and opposition, who contested the judgement and sought re-classification of the organization on the European terrorist list, in the interests of Sri Lankan and European national security alike.[3]

The European Union Council reacted promptly and on December 2, 2014 decided to contest the European General Court’s judgment, a month and a half after it had been issued. The Council treaded carefully in contesting some of the issues contained in the Court's judgment, and simultaneously worked to consider actions that would prevent a repeat occurrence of such a verdict.[4]  Within the European Union some have the view that the Court had somewhat exceeded its limits, and in so doing had in many ways limited the effectiveness, prestige and dissemination of the Union's policies. It is then not surprising that the Council would resort to amendments that would limit the powers of the court, whether through changes to conventions or through the parliament itself.

Surprise for Hamas, Shock for its Enemies      

The judicial decision on December 17, 2014 to remove Hamas from the European list of terrorist organizations caused great consternation in official European circles. For European decision makers, accustomed since 2003 to both the political and the military wings of Hamas being on the terrorist list, this outcome was to say the least unexpected. The end run that Hamas had carried out to reach European courts constituted a precedent, what is more, one full of implications – should the European Union institution fail to remedy mistakes made with regard to Hamas and other movements and organizations/ individuals with whom it had dealt with along the same defective lines,  organizations such as the Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, may be encouraged to follow suit and turn to European courts to bring the European Union Council to remove them from the black list.

Expressing this state of consternation, the European envoy in Israel hastened to reassure the Israeli Foreign Ministry that the European Union would do everything it could to reverse the decision – one he described as regrettable – while calling upon Israel to avoid amplifying the matter. The Union, he stressed, was in the process of compiling evidence meeting the Court’s requirements[5], just as another group of EU ambassadors in Israel had pledged to do in a meeting with the former Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni.[6] The European Commission proceeded to clarify that it continued to regard Hamas as a terrorist organization, and that it was in the process of reviewing all the options, including that of contesting the decision.[7] Britain was quick to jump on the bandwagon, vowing to work with its partners to revert the status of Hamas to what it was before the European Court's decision, noting that the British government was the first among its European counterparts to put the military wing of Hamas on its terrorism, in 2001.[8]

The EU’s state of bafflement followed the crazed sense of outrage emerging in Israeli media and official circles. The European Court’s decision stirred fierce attacks by Israeli politicians against Europe, its institutions, countries and peoples. “Hypocritical Europe,” said the statements issued by the Israeli government; “did not learn the lesson of the Holocaust”, and needed to immediately reverse its decision supporting “a murderous organization whose charter threatens to wipe Israel from the map”. The occupation government’s Minister of the Economy, Naftali Bennett, described the European law as “corrupt and immoral,” a move that allowed Jewish blood to be spilled, and warned that “terrorism that finds justification in Tel Aviv will swiftly spread to London, Paris and Belgium”.[9]  Such virulent attacks by these and other personalities resonated in the White House, which called upon the European Union to maintain Hamas on the list of terrorist organizations,[10] with Canada following suit.[11] Meanwhile the White House proceeded to mobilize Zionist influence in centers around the world to work full steam with the Europeans to ensure reversal of this unexpected and unprecedented development.[12] The strong reactions suggested that the European decision constituted an important moral victory for Hamas, and that it reinforced the deterioration in the image of Israel and Israeli supporters, world-wide.[13] 


To continue reading this research paper as a PDF, please click here. This paper was translated by the ACRPS Translation and English editing team. To read the original Arabic version, which was printed in the 13th Edition of Siyasat Arabia and appeared online on May 26, 2015, please click here.

[1] European Commission, “Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the European Union concerning listing of the LTTE as a terrorist organization,” (Presse 163, 31 May 2006), http://bit.ly/1vmIymO 

[2] EU General Court, Judgment of the General Court (Sixth Chamber, Extended Composition), Luxemburg, October 16, 2014,  http://bit.ly/1vGkota

[3] Colombo page, “Sri Lanka to contest the European Court decision lifting sanctions on LTTE,” October 19, 2014, at: http://bit.ly/1E3z6tt; “Ranil requests EU to appeal against Court ruling,” Daily Mirror, November 11, 2014  http://bit.ly/1CYjdaB

[4] “Council of the European Union appeals the Judgment of the General Court,” Press Release: Colombo, December 2, 2014,  http://bit.ly/1Dkf1R7

[5] Barak Ravid, “EU court orders Hamas removed from terror list” Haaretz, December 17, 2014, http://bit.ly/1DIGhcK

[6] Barak Ravid, “EU envoys vow to keep Hamas on terrorist list,” Haaretz, December 18, 2014, at http://bit.ly/1vGkGjQ

[7] EEAS, “Statement by the Spokesperson on the judgment of the General Court of the EU on Hamas,” Brussels, December 18, 2014,  http://bit.ly/1zOdhP7

[8] “Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) responds to EU Court Judgment on Hamas,” Press release, December 17, 2014, http://bit.ly/1zyz9fr

[9] Herb Keinon, “Netanyahu: We expect the EU to put Hamas back on the terror blacklist immediately,” The Jerusalem Post, December 17, 2014,  http://bit.ly/1IZJ2L3

[10] U.S Department of State, “State Department Daily Press Briefing,” Press release, December 17, 2014, http://1.usa.gov/1vGkroT

[11] “Canada Urges EU to Place Hamas Back on Terror Blacklist,” December 18, 2014,  http://bit.ly/1zxxWlA

[12] World Jewish Congress, “WJC urges EU to act swiftly after court strikes Hamas off list of terrorist organizations,” December 2014,  http://bit.ly/1vmISSE

[13] Shlomy Eldar, “Hamas scores diplomatic victory in Europe,” Al-monitor, December 19, 2014, http://bit.ly/17l1RaV