(Image: Carlos Latuff)
Although Israeli officials reported that prisoner Mahmoud Sarsak had ended his hunger strike, today Sarsak’s lawyer confirmed to Ma’an News Agency that the football star did not break and is now in his 86th day of fast. However, speaking to Ma’an, Sarsak’s attorney, Mohammad Jabarein, confirmed the footballer did ease his strike by drinking milk, although only when Jabarein fed it to him. Sarsak agreed to drink in order to stay alive for his final appeal, which is scheduled on Thursday.
Despite Sarsak’s softening of his hunger strike, Jabarein told Ma’an that if the soccer player does not win his last appeal, he wioll continue the strike until his death.
Sarsak’s strike has received less news coverage than other recent hunger strikers, including Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi. However, Palestinian activists on the ground have continued to support Sarsak by playing soccer in protest outside of Ofer prison, in Ramallah, in Gaza and in Bethlehem, and launching Twitter campaigns using the hashtag #footballshero.
Update: Here is a petition drive in which footballers call on Michel Platini, head of UEFA (Union of European Football Associations), to urge the release of Sarsak.
Last Friday, after weeks of pressure from organizers, the federation of professional football players FIFPro released a statement calling to end Sarsak’s detention:
FIFPro, the voice of all professional footballers in the world, demands that Mahmoud Sarsak be released from prison. The Palestinian national team player has been imprisoned by the Israeli government for three years without any trial.
On 22 July 2009 Sarsak – who lives in Rafah in the Gaza Strip – was arrested at a checkpoint when he was on his way to the West Bank for a match with his national team. He was interrogated for thirty days and then imprisoned without any trial or a precise legal charge. Family and friends are not allowed to visit him. They do not know why he is being detained for already nearly three years.
According to the Israeli government he is an illegal combatant and therefore they can imprison him indefinitely.
To protest against his condition and lack of civil liberties, Sarsak currently is on a hunger strike. The 25-year old footballer has not eaten for 85 days and has lost approximately thirty kilos in weight. According to human rights organisation Addameer the situation of Mahmoud is critical.
FIFPro is deeply concerned about Sarsak’s health and about his imprisonment and therefore asks for his release from jail.
FIFPro is also very concerned about the situation of many other professional footballers in Palestine. Sarsak is not the only player who is suffering from the actions of the Israeli government. There are stories of other players who have been harassed, arrested or even killed.
For many players in Palestine, there is no real freedom of movement.
‘The freedom of movement is a fundamental right of every citizen’, says Philippe Piat, FIFPro’s vice-president and president of FIFPro Division Europe. ‘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 colours of their country. They cannot cross the border. They cannot visit their family. They are locked up. This is an injustice.’
Last year FIFPro paid two visits to Palestine to visit the footballers, to talk about their problems and to talk about the establishment of a professional footballers’ association in Palestine.
In 2009, while en route to the West Bank from Gaza to play on Palestine’s football team, Sarsak was arrested by Israeli authorities using a law designed to detain Lebanese nationals thought to have affiliation with Hezbollah. Since 2000, the “Unlawful Combatants Law” was used to imprison Palestinians from Gaza under harsher conditions than administrative detention.
(Image: Carlos Latuff)