national soccer team
Poster for Mahmoud Sarsak by Hafez Omar
As European soccer stars compete in the European Championship, the eyes of the world must turn to a soccer star at urgent risk of death: Palestinian national team member Mahmoud Sarsak, 25, has been imprisoned under Israel’s “Unlawful Combatants Law” – the only prisoner so held – without charge or trial – for three years. Sarsak, from Gaza, traveled to the West Bank to join the Palestinian national soccer team for training. Upon his arrival he was abducted by the Israeli occupation military and since that time has been held in Israeli jails, subject to this special version of administrative detention designed especially for Palestinian prisoners from the Gaza Strip.
Mahmoud Sarsak launched his own hunger strike demanding freedom following the strikes of administrative detainees Khader Adnan and Hana’ Shalabi, on March 19 of this year. He was joined by thousands of other Palestinian prisoners on April 17. When the prisoners’ general open hunger strike ended on May 14 with an agreement, Sarsak continued his strike; his situation was particularly precarious due to the unique form of administrative detention under which he is held.
According to Physicians for Human Rights and Addameer,
Despite the urgency of his condition, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) has denied Mahmoud access to independent doctors from PHR-Israel until today. The IPS also refuses to transfer him to a civilian hospital for proper treatment. Following today’s visit, the PHR-Israel doctor reported that Mahmoud has experienced extreme loss of muscle tissue and drastic weight loss. He has lost 33 percent of his body weight, from an original weight of 76 kilos down to his present weight of 51 kilos. He also suffers from frequent incidents of fainting and loss of consciousness, in addition to lapses in memory. The doctor further reported that Mahmoud is in danger of pulse disruptions (arrhythmias) that are endangering his life.
Palestinian human rights organizations have urgently called for international action and solidarity for Mahmoud Sarsak – and for his fellow continuing hunger strikers, Akram Al-Rikhawi, on his 57th day of hunger strike, and Samer al-Barq, who renewed his hunger strike (following his participation in the April 17-May 14 general strike) on May 21 in protest of Israeli continual violations of the agreement - rather than being released as promised, his administrative detention was renewed.
Sarsak and Rikhawi have released a letter to the world, calling for action on their cases, as translated by the Electronic Intifada:
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 – as if, after the end of the general strike all the demands of the prisoners were met.
We are still here, continuing our open-ended hunger strike and that battle has not endeddespite 78 days of strike for one of us, and 59 days for the other.
Regretfully, we thought that you would support us in our hunger strike, but instead you have stood on our wounds and our pain.
From here, we cry out to you, to our brothers, to dignified people, that you bear your responsibility, for after God, we have no one but you and the freedom loving people of the world to bring victory to our cause.
Second: As the hunger strike continues to erode our bodies and sap what is left of our strength, we cry out to you to help us in our battle on every level and field, local, regional and international, especially in the media, and especially Palestinian television which represents the Palestinian people.
And also in the newspapers, radio and electronic media, so that our voices can reach the freedom loving people of the world and expose this entity, and for the victory of our cause.
We say: there is still enough time and the support that comes late is better than that which does not come at all. It is better that you receive us alive and victorious rather than as lifeless bodies in black bags.
Therefore we two hunger strikers remain on our strike, Mahmoud Sarsak who has endured 78 days, and Sheikh Akram Rikhawi who has endured 59 days and was already ill, having spent 8 years in Ramle Prison clinic suffering from illnesses, and who now struggles against death.
We inform you that we will remain on our strike until all our demands are met and we will not submit to the demands of the Prison Service regardless of what we suffer in restrictions, provocations, and bargaining, and we will not accept promises and half-measures despite the deterioration of our health and our entry into difficult and dangerous situations, especially since we have lost more than 25kg and 18kg.
Our people, our leaders in Gaza, in the West Bank and outside, and freedom loving people of the world, we cry out to you, and to all people in the world who believe in the justice of our cause: do not abandon us to the vindictive hands of the jailers to take what they want from our frail bodies.
You are the ones able to support us for victory in our battle.
Your brothers who remain on hunger strike until victory or martrydom,
Sarsak’s family has also joined in a video call for his freedom HERE
Protests have taken place across Europe and more action is urgently needed. As the world’s eyes are on the best in soccer, take action for a true football hero – Mahmoud Sarsak – whose life is on the line for his freedom, and for dignity and justice for all Palestinians.
- Sign a letter demanding the Israeli state transfer Mahmoud Sarsak, Akram Rikhawi and Samer al-Barq immediately to hospitals and release them. Tell the Israeli Prison Services that the world is watching! Click hereto sign.
- Join a protest or demonstration for Palestinian prisoners. Many groups and organizations are holding events – join one or announce your own. Organizing an event, action or forum on Palestinian prisoners on your city or campus? Use this form to contact us and we will post the event widely. If you need suggestions, materials or speakers for your event, please contact usat email@example.com….
- Contact your government officials and demand an end to international silence and complicity with the repression of Palestinian political prisoners.
In the US, call the office of Elizabeth Jones, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs (1.202.647.7209). Demand that Elizabeth Jones bring this issue urgently to his counterparts in Israel.
In Australia, write to the office of Bob Carr, Foreign Minister and demand an end to Australian support for Israel and justice for Palestinian prisoners HERE
Sonja Karkar of Australians for Palestine writes:
Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike are fighting for their most basic rights. It is critical that the voices of people around the
world remain raised and clear, calling for freedom for all Palestinian prisoners. Please contact your government representatives urging them to demand that Palestinian political prisoners on hunger strike receive immediate medical attention and release and that Israel bring to an end the isolation of Palestinian prisoners and allow them contact with their families and lawyers. It is the least that we can expect from our world’s leaders who remind us constantly of the need to uphold human rights while blatantly ignoring the basic rights and dignity of Palestinian prisoners under Israel’s punitive system. In Australia, please contact Foreign Minister Bob Carr
War rages on Palestinian soccer – Free Mahmoud Sarsak (81 days on hunger strike)
by Ramzy Baroud
The Palestine Chronicle
6 June 2012
On June 4, Palestinian national soccer team member Mahmoud Sarsak completed 81 days of a grueling hunger strike. He had sustained the strike despite the
fact that nearly 2,000 Palestinian inmates had called off their own 28-day hunger strike weeks ago.
Although the story of Palestinian prisoners in Israel speaks to a common reality of unlawful detentions and widespread mistreatment, Sarsak’s fate can also be viewed within its own unique context. The soccer player, who once sought to take the name and flag of his nation to international arenas, was arrested by Israeli soldiers in July 2009 while en route to join the national team in the West Bank.
Sarsak was branded an “illegal combatant” by Israel’s military judicial system, and has since been imprisoned without any charges or trial.
Sarsak is not alone in the continued hunger strike. Akram al-Rekhawi, a diabetic prisoner demanding proper medical care, has refused food for over 50 days.
At the time of writing of this article, both men were reportedly in dire medical condition. Sarsak, once of unmatched athletic build, is now gaunt beyond recognition. The already ill al-Rekhawi is dying.
According to rights groups, an Israeli court on May 30 granted prison doctors 12 more days before allowing independent doctors to visit the prisoners, further prolonging their suffering and isolation. Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHRI), which has done a remarkable job battling the draconian rules of Israeli military courts, continues to petition the court to meet with both Sarsak and al-Rekhawi, according to Ma’an news agency.
Sadly, the story here becomes typical. PHRI, along with other prisoners’ rights groups, are doing all that civil society organizations can do within such an oppressive legal and political situation. Families are praying. Social media activists are sending constant updates and declaring solidarity. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is merely looking on – not due to any lack of concern for human rights, but due to the selective sympathy of Western governments and media.
Think of the uproar made by US media over the fate of blind Chinese political activist Chen Guangcheng. When he took shelter in the US embassy in Beijing, a near-diplomatic crisis ensued. Guangcheng was finally flown to the US on May 19, and he recently delivered a talk in New York before an astounded audience.
“The 40-year-old, blind activist said that his lengthy detention [of seven years] demonstrates that lawlessness is still the norm in China,” reported the New York Post on May 31. “Is there any justice? Is there any rationale in any of this?” Chen asked. Few in the US media would contend with the statement. But somehow the logic becomes entirely irrelevant when the perpetrator of injustice is Israel, and the victim is a Palestinian. Al-Rekhawi is not blind, but he has many medical ailments. He has been in Ramle prison clinic since his detention in 2004, receiving severely inadequate medical care.
Sarsak, who has been a witness to many tragedies, is now becoming one. The 25-year old had once hoped to push the ranking of his national team back to a reasonable standing. If Palestinians ever deserve to be called “fanatics”, it would be in reference to soccer. As a child growing up in Gaza, I remember playing soccer in increments of a few minutes, braving Israeli military curfews, risking arrest, injury and even death. Somehow, in a very crowded refugee camp, soccer becomes tantamount to freedom.
Palestine’s ranking at 164th in the world is testament not to any lack of passion for the game, but to the constant Israeli attempts at destroying even that national aspiration.
The examples of Israeli war on Palestinian soccer are too many to count, although most of them receive little or no media coverage whatsoever. In 2004, Israel blocked several essential players from accompanying the national team out of Gaza for a second match against Chinese Taipei. (Palestine had won the first match 8-0.) The obstacles culminated in the March 2006 bombing of the Palestinian Football Stadium in Gaza, which reduced the grass field to a massive crater. Then, in the war on Gaza (Operation Cast Lead 2008-09), things turned bloody as Israel killed three national soccer players: Ayman Alkurd, Shadi Sbakhe and Wajeh Moshtahe. It also bombed their stadium again.
Sarsak was a promising new face of Palestinian soccer. In times of Palestinian disunity and factionalism, it was the national team that kept a symbolic unity between Gaza and the West Bank – and indeed Palestinians everywhere. These young men exemplify hope that better times are ahead. But Sarsak’s star is now fading, as is his life. His mother, who hasn’t seen him since his arrests, told Ma’an that she thinks of him every minute of each day. “Why is there no one moving to save his life?” she asked.
Writing in the Nation on May 10, Dave Zirin wrote:
“Imagine if a member of Team USA Basketball – let’s say Kobe Bryant – had been traveling to an international tournament only to be seized by a foreign government and held in prison for three years without trial or even hearing the charges for which he was imprisoned … Chances are all the powerful international sports organizations – the IOC [International Olympic Committee], [global football's organizing body] FIFA – would treat the jailing nation as a pariah until Kobe was free. And chances are that even Laker-haters would wear buttons that read, ‘Free Kobe’.”
Sarsak is the Bryant of his people. But ask any political commentator and he will tell you why Mohmoud Sarsak is not Kobe Bryant, and why al-Rekhawi is not Chen. It is the same prevalent logic of a powerful Washington-based pro-Israel lobby and all the rest.
Even if the logic was founded, why are international sports institutions not standing in complete solidarity with the dying Sarsak? Why don’t soccer matches include a moment of solidarity with killed Palestinian players, and the dying young man aching to join his teammates on the field once more? Why is Israel not fully and comprehensively boycotted by every international sports organization?
“As long as Sarsak remains indefinitely detained and as long as Israel targets sport and athletes as legitimate targets of war, they have no business being rewarded by FIFA or the UEFA, let alone even being a part of the community of international sports,” wrote Zirin (the second being the European footballing organization).
That would be a belated step, but an unequivocally urgent one, for Palestinian sportsmen are literally dying.
Ramzy Baroud is an internationally syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com…. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story.