On July 22 2009, Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak – from Gazas Rafah refugee camp – was on his way to join his national team’s training camp in the West Bank when he was detained by the Israeli military. Under Israel’s policy of administrative detention, many Palestinians are held without trial indefinitely. Although Sarsak had received Israel’s permission to join the Palestinian national team, when he arrived at the Erez/Gaza checkpoint he was interrogated and detained for 30 days, before being moved to Israel’s Rafeh Prison. Sarsak had never been charged and on the 18th of June, when his detention order was renewed for a sixth time, he embarked on a hunger strike. His family has been barred from visiting him throughout his detention.
His hunger strike has lasted for 92 days (since June 18th) and it has severely compromised his health. A doctor from Physicians for Human Rights Israel, stated that “He needs intensive medical care if he will live” and it is understood that he can no longer walk, talk, or hear and now weighs less than one-hundred pounds. The situation has grabbed media attention after prominent footballers have come out in support of Sarsak, particularly since FIFA has awarded the hosting rights of the 2013 U21-championship to Israel.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter has called on Israel to save Mahmoud’s life while FIFApro, an organisation representing 50 000 professional footballers has called on Israel to release him immediately. Former Manchester United football legend Eric Cantona has co-signed a letter with other international figures, including Noam Chomksy, filmmaker Ken Loach, South African international law expert John Dugard, UK Sports Minister Hugh Robertson, UEFA President Michel Platin and other sporting bodies which condemns Israel’s human rights abuses and its contravention of international law.
Sevillas Kanoute shows off his Palestine shirt while celebrating with Fabiano after scoring against Deportivo Coruna during their Spanish Kings Cup soccer match in Seville
Former Seville Striker Frédéric Kanouté released a statement on his website in support of Sarsak that was co-signed by 23 other European top athletes, including footballers Nicolas Anelka,Demba Ba and sailor Jo Le Guen. They stated: “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.”
Kanouté, who after scoring a goal lifted his jersey to reveal a Palestinian shirt protesting the attacks on the Gaza Strip at the time, has become a prominent Palestinian activist. His call joins those of The Palestinian Football Authority, as well as Amnesty International, who recently renewed their call for Sarsak’s release.