Monday, June 18, 2012

Footballer wins freedom pledge

Hearing the good news in RAFEAH, Mahmoud's older brother Imad.

Demonstration in ROME at headquarters of Italian Football Federation, and below, schoolgirls in RAMALLAH with pictures of Mahmoud al Sarsak

PALESTINIAN footballer Mahmoud al Sarsak has ended a record-breaking 93 days on hunger strike in an Israel jail after winning an agreement that he will be released on Tuesday, July 10.

His lawyer Mohammad Jaberein said al-Sarsak agreed to end the fast during his visit today. 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.

The footballer, from Rafeah in the southern Gaza strip, had been held for three years,without charge or trial, when he commenced his hunger strike.

Under the deal al-Sarsak will visit a civilian hospital for treatment tomorrow, but the same day will return to Ramle prison clinic until his release on July 10, the lawyer added.

Physicians for Human Rights - Israel say the clinic is not equipped to treat long-term hunger strikers or manage the health risks when they return to eating, and has called for transfer of hunger strikers to civilian facilities.

The 25-year-old soccer player from the Gaza Strip has been imprisoned by Israel without charge or trial since July 2009. He is the the only prisoner held so far under Israel's Unlawful Combattants Law which allows detention without trial for an unlimited period.

Al-Sarsak joined the local soccer team in his Rafah refugee camp at 14, becoming the youngest footballer to play in the Palestine Liga A at the time. The midfielder attracted the attention of a German coach while playing for the Palestine national team in Norway.

The first step was to play for a team in the West Bank. But Israeli security arrested him on July 22, 2009, at the Erez crossing from the blockaded Gaza Strip, the only route to Palestinian territory in the occupied West Bank.

His hunger strike attracted attention and support for his cause not only in Palestine and among campaigners in Israel, but internationally. Demonstrations and petitions in Europe brought in
Eric Cantona and FIFA President Sepp Blatter to add their voices to those calling for Mahmoud al Sarsak's release, and the International Federation of Professional Footballers. An Israeli conscientious objector in military prison has joined the Palestinian hunger strike in solidarity.

It was reported that Eric Cantona called upon the UEFA to cancel plans for Israel host the 2013 European Under-21 Football Championship due to its violation of human rights, and especially due to the ongoing imprisonment of Mahmoud al Sarsak. “It is time to end the injustice, and insist upon standards of equality, justice and respect of international law – like we demand from any other country,” said Cantona.

In Israel, Yaniv Mazor - sentenced to 20 days in prison for refusing to do his reserve service - started a hunger strike of his own while in military prison, in solidarity with Palestinian detainees. Mazor’s attorney Michael Sfard told Haaretz journalist Amira Hass that Mazor’s goal is to raise awareness on the issue of administrative detention – and not to secure his own release.

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