Palestinian Soccer Player Nears Death
The Muslim Observer
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 Sarkar 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 Sarkar, 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.' Sarkar 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
Sarkar'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 Argentinian 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
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.