After a 92-day battle between Mahmoud Sarsak’s empty stomach and Israeli imprisonment without charge, today the Palestinian soccer star ended his hunger strike by biting into a morsel of chocolate.
Sarsak’s attorney, Mohammad Jaberein confirmed this afternoon the footballer from Gaza had reached a deal with prison authorities for a July 10, 2012 release.
Mohammad Jaberein said al-Sarsak signed the agreement during his visit to the prisoner on Monday. Israeli prison authorities asked al-Sarsak to eat something in their presence to ratify the deal, after which he took a piece of chocolate from the lawyer, Jaberein said.
Under the deal al-Sarsak will visit a civilian hospital for treatment on Tuesday, but the same day will return to Ramle prison clinic until his release on July 10, the lawyer added.
Soccer player Federic Kanoute supporting Sarsak. (Photo: Reuters)
Sarsak’s release follows international uproar by soccer superstars who stomped their feet against his three-year incarceration ordered by Israel’s “Unlawful Combatants Law,” a draconian form of administrative detention that offers little hope for freedom. In this form of imprisonment, detainees are tasked with proving their innocence for unknown crimes, and– more impossible– proving they are not a future threat to Israel. In light of a non-existent path to freedom within Israel’s legal system, Sarsak’s freedom was achieved only after a near-death hunger strike, with an assist from the international professional footballers association, FIFPro, and sports superstar Eric Cantona.
The Nation‘s sports correspondent, Dave Zirin, points to the head of FIFPro, Sepp Blatter, as a driving force behind Sarsak’s release. But Zirin contends Blatter’s agitation was a result of arm-twisting and not political principles:
It’s safe to say that if Sarsak had died, and Blatter had done nothing, the outrage could have ended his tenure at the top of the sport. It also could have imperiled not only the 2013 UEFA tournament in Israel, already targeted by Europe’s ‘Red Card Israeli Apartheid’ movement, but the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. If there was a nuclear war, I’m convinced that only roaches and Blatter would walk away unscathed.
Now that Sarsak’s release has been announced, Israel has said to the press that they believed him to be in the terrorist organization Islamic Jihad. These accusations are news to Sarsak’s lawyer, his family, and his friends. This is someone whose only crime was attempting to cross a border to play soccer. His arrest is seen much more as part of a broader effort to degrade this ‘national team without a nation’ than anything he may have done off the pitch. Given what we know, it’s remarkable that it took Blatter and friends three years to say something, But it’s equally remarkable to all involved that international solidarity and awareness forced Israel’s hand.
Blatter’s feeble call for due process surely had an effect, but Sarsak’s case is most compelling as a keyhole into Israel’s system of meticulously planned injustice masquerading as a security state, and the use of administrative detention where there is no reasonable process for appeal. With convictions in military courts at an unfathomable 99.7%, nearly dying and a worldwide grassroots campaign is the fee for a slither of justice.