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Palestinian Soccer Player, Mahmoud Al-Sarsak, Nears Death

By Karin Friedemann

Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, June 28, 2012


While President Obama awarded Israeli president Shimon Perez with a medal last week, world outrage about Israel's treatment of Palestinians has escalated exponentially as professional footballer Mahmoud Al-Sarsak nears death from his hunger strike of over 90 days in protest of his illegal incarceration. Thousands of other Palestinian prisoners, including 20 children, have joined his hunger strike. Despite a media blackout, the word has been spreading globally through Facebook and Twitter.

 With Sarsak, Akram Al-Rikhawi, a prisoner for 8 years on his 57th day of hunger strike, wrote in a letter to the world: "This is an urgent and final distress call from captivity, slow and programmed death inside the cells of so-called Ramle Prison hospital, that you know that your sons and brothers are still struggling against death and you pay no attention to them and do not remember their cause...You are the ones able to support us for victory in our battle."

Sarsak, a 25 year old from Rafah, in Gaza, was arrested at a checkpoint while on his way to the West Bank to play with the Palestinian national team in 2009. Since then, he has been detained without charge or trial, and has not been allowed to see his family. He is being held under the Unlawful Combatant Law, which allows Israel to detain Palestinians from Gaza indefinitely without charge or criminal proceedings being brought to court. As with every other Palestinian prisoner held by Israel, Mahmoud was transferred to a prison outside of the Occupied Territories. This is illegal under Articles 49 and 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of prisoners from an occupied territory to that of the occupying state. 2,000 prisoners, according to Palestinian prisoners' rights group Addameer, are held as administrative detainees without a chance of trial.

UN Special Envoy to the Occupied Territories, Richard Falk, has called for the 25 year old's release, saying that 'he has suffered immensely.' Sarsak has lost 33 percent of his body weight. After three months without food, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel issued a warning that he could die at any moment.

There are huge demonstrations expected in Scotland on Saturday, where Israel's women's soccer team is to play against Scotland. Mick Napier, chairman of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC), explains: "There should be no business as usual for Israel's national teams while Israel denies Palestinians the same privileges."

Meanwhile, dozens of professional athletes have been rallying to Sarsak's cause, sending out twitters to fans. "In the name of sporting solidarity, justice and human rights, we declare our support for Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak. As European sportsmen, we believe that every person has the right to a fair and independent trial," wrote Marcelo del Pozo, an Argentine player for Spain.

Seville striker Frédéric Kanouté posted on his website: "In the name of civil liberties, justice, and basic human rights, we call for the release of Mahmoud Sarsak." Kanouté gained international fame when he lifted his team jersey to reveal a shirt with the word "Palestine"after scoring a goal during a league match at the height of Israel's January 2009 attack on Gaza, an action for which he was fined $4,000.

Other supporters include Nicolas Anelka, former player for Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Real Madrid, and French sailor Jo Le Guen. Prominent figures such as former France and Manchester United midfielder Eric Cantona, film director Ken Loach and American philosopher and activist Noam Chomsky have urged Israeli authorities to release Sarsak. Protests under the banner "Let Sarsak Live" took place in London's Trafalgar Square last week to raise awareness of his ordeal. In a letter to The Guardian, former UK Member of Parliament John Austin called on the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) to "reconsider its decision to hold its under-21 championship in Israel in 2013."

Amnesty International also proclaimed that Sarsak, "who is at risk of death after more than 90 days on hunger strike in protest against his detention by Israel should immediately be admitted to a civilian hospital or released so that he can receive life-saving medical care."

Philippe Piat, vice-president of FIFPro, the global organization which represents professional footballers said, "freedom of movement is a fundamental right of every citizen. It is also written down in the FIFA Regulations that players must be allowed to play for the national team of their country. But actually for some footballers it is impossible to defend the colors of their country. They cannot cross the border. They cannot visit their family. They are locked up. This is an injustice.'

As the Israeli Asaf Harofe Hospital announced that Sarkar's death could come within hours, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) became heavily involved in pressing the Israelis for Sarkar's release. On June 20, Mahmoud Sarsak rejected an offer from negotiators and lawyers to be released to Norway or Sweden. Mahmoud wants to be free to go to his home in the Gaza Strip only. Gaza TV News reported on June 21: "After 91 days on Hunger Strike, Mahmoud Sarsak is to be released on July 17th. We will post further news as it reaches us." This report has not yet been confirmed, so it is vital that the public continue writing letters and making phone calls of support.




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