Fight for life of Mahmoud al-Sarsak
For previous report see Keep your eyes on the ball: snatched Palestinian footballer on hunger strike
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.
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,Mahmoud Sarsak
Khaldiya Shalabi, mother of Mahmoud Sarsak
DEMONSTRATION Friday 8th June, 4-5.30pm
Department for Culture Media and Sport 2-4 Cockspur Street London SW1Y 5DH
“Immediate action needed: independent doctor confirms current hunger strikers face imminent threats to their lives”
Footballer Mahmoud Sarsak is on 82 day hunger strike, in protest against his 3 years imprison without charge or trial.
Sarsak was abducted by Israel in 2009 and has since been held under the Israeli “Unlawful Combatants Law”, which is illegal under international law.
Sarsak’s career as a player in the Palestinian national football squad was destroyed by his abduction, his health has deteriorated in the Israeli inhumane jail conditions for Palestinians, but now his LIFE IS IN GRAVE DANGER – after 82 day hunger strike.
If you are unable to come to the London protest, please facilitate/participate in a protest near you. We don’t have much time to save Sarsak’s life.
MAHMOUD KAMEL MOHAMMAD SARSAK
Date of Birth: 20 January 1987
Place of residence: Shaboura Refugee Camp, Rafah, Gaza
Occupation: University student and member of the Palestinian national football team
Date of arrest: 22 July 2009
Place of detention: Ramleh prison medical center
In spite of the risk to his life Israel is refusing him proper medical care and is keeping him in prison, instead of a hospital
Palestine footballer Mahmoud Sarsak’s mother speaks out as jailed son’s condition grows desperate
By Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada,
As his condition grows ever more desperate, the mother of jailed, hunger-striking Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak has appealed for his release and safe return home. [video]
Sarsak, a star Palestinian footballer, was arrested by Israeli occupation forces three years ago at Erez checkpoint as he traveled from his home in Gaza to a match in the West Bank’s Balata refugee camp. He has been held without charge or trial ever since.
Meanwhile, French solidarity activists today protested at the French Football Federation, demanding action on Sarsak’s behalf.
“When I see young men of his age passing by, I keep thinking Mahmoud could have been here. Can you imagine when you’re told your son is in Ramle prison, ill, he’s in hospital and you can’t reach him, or visit him, or see him,” Khaldiya Shalabi said in a brief video released by The Institute for Middle East Understanding.
He has been on hunger strike since 19 March. Several days ago, Sarsak and Akram Rikhawi, fellow prisoner who is also on hunger strike, issued an urgent distress call that they not be abandoned by the world and the Palestinian leadership.
“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,” the men said, appealing for people around the world to take action on their behalf.
Independent physicians and human rights groups have recently expressed grave concern over the imminent risk to the prisoners’ lives.
In the video, Sarsak’s mother pointed out that she has not seen her son since his arrest due to Israel’s ban on prison visits by residents of Gaza imposed in 2007 as a form of collective punishment after an Israeli occupation soldier was captured.
Sarsak’s mother pointed out that the Israeli occupation soldier was freed last year and “went back to his family, we hope the same for our children, to be happy here. Just like they have children, we have children.”
Aseel, Sarsak’s young niece appealed for his return, “We love uncle Mahmoud so much and hopefully he will get out.”
Despite his long struggle and desperate plight, there has been virtually no international media coverage of Sarsak’s case. An exception was an interview with his father last week on the BBC World Service’s program World Football.
World Football noted that the Israeli government ignored its requests for interviews about Sarsak’s situation.
Activists occupy French Football Federation headquarters
Meanwhile, French activists today occupied the headquarters of French Football Federation. According to an email received from Olivia Zémor, president of the group CAPJPO-EuroPalestine:
Since 11 am this Tuesday, activists have been occupying the headquarters of the French Football Federation in Paris.
They are asking their leaders to support Mahmoud Sarsak, Palestinian footballer, who has been on hunger strike for 78 days and who is about to die. He’s been in prison for 3 years in Israel without charge nor trial and is not allowed to appropriate medical care not to visits from independent doctors. PLEASE JOIN US AT THE ABOVE ADDRESS.
Jehan Alfarra, IMEU
On July, 22, 2009, Palestinian National Team soccer player, Mahmoud Al Sarsak, bid farewell to his family as he had finally obtained an Israeli permit allowing him to cross Erez checkpoint in the north of Gaza and enter the West Bank. The 22-year-old player, at the time, was heading to Balata Refugee Camp to join the Palestinian National Soccer Team and to train there. The overwhelming happiness that overcame the young Palestinian athlete as he was issued the permit, describes his mother Khaldiya Shalabi, has turned into a curse of misery for him and his family.
As Mahmoud arrived at Erez, he was transferred to Ashkelon prison for 30 days of interrogation, only to be given a detention order on the 23rd of August under Israel’s ‘Unlawful Combatants Law’, which allows Israel to detain Palestinians from the Gaza Strip indefinitely, without charge or trial. Mahmoud was repeatedly denied any information on the reasons behind his so-far three year detention, and is thus denied his basic right of defending himself, leaving him with no option but to starve himself in protest to his situation. Entering his 76th day of hunger strike, Mahmoud is currently facing severe deterioration in his health, including loss in his sight, hearing and muscle, which might devastate his future soccer career if not lead to his death if it continues further.
In one of the camp’s alleys right behind the Rafah Sports Club, where he trained and played soccer for years, lies Mahmoud Al Sarsak’s home. A poster with Mahmoud’s photo, along with three other Palestinian hunger strikes whom exceeded 70 days of hunger strike, is hung up at the front wall of the house. Mahmoud’s nephews and nieces were playing with other children from the neighborhood in the alley when I arrived to visit Mahmoud’s family, and they led me inside the small house where his mother and sisters in law were sitting and where a huge portrait of young Mahmoud was placed. “We have been repeating the story over and over again” Mahmoud’s mother said, “It has been three years and now my son is dying, yet no one is able to change anything.” Now accustomed to the random visits of journalists which hasn’t changed anything in her son’s situation as she believes, Mahmoud’s mother put her veil on to prepare for the interview, saying she will not tire out from talking about it as there is nothing else she could do.
“Before you ask me if my son has any political affiliation”, she continued, “you need to know that my son has only ever been obsessed with his soccer games, neglecting even his computing studies which he wanted to finish in the West Bank. He is not engaged in anything else.” According to prisoner support and human rights association, Addameer, “The law defines an “unlawful combatant” as a person who has participated either directly or indirectly in hostile acts against the State of Israel, or is a member of a force perpetrating hostile acts against the State of Israel.” Not only has Mahmoud been denied his right to defend himself, but as a Palestinian prisoner from Gaza , he is also denied any family visits.
Mahmoud, just like every other Palestinian prisoner, was also transferred to a prison inside Israel, which is a violation of Articles 49 and 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that prohibit that transfer of occupied people to the territory of the occupier.
Mahmoud’s sister in law believes that Mahmoud’s arrest was part of an intimidation strategy that Israel has been using against the residents of the Gaza Strip. “It is extremely difficult to obtain an Israeli permit to enter the West Bank via Erez, but knowing that if you get one then you might be arrested at the checkpoint without having done anything is enough to make you stop thinking about ever trying to visit the West Bank,” she said. Since the capture of shalit and the imposition of the siege on Gaza, visiting the West Bank from Gaza via Erez has become one of the most difficult things a Palestinian can do. Cases of interrogation and/or arrest at Erez crossing are not uncommon, with a number of Palestinians being held for years as a result of an attempt to pass onto the other side of the border. Even patients who were trying to enter the west bank or Jerusalem for medical treatment have been subject to interrogation and/or arrest at Erez over the years.
Right now, Mahmoud is only one day from matching up with the longest hunger strike in Palestinian history, that of Thaer Halahle and Bilal Diab who went on a hunger strike for 77 days. Mahmoud’s health is in grave danger, yet “Israeli Prison Service (IPS) is still denying access to independent doctors from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) to visit them [Mahmoud Al Sarsak and the other Palestinian prisoner on hunger strike, Akram Rikhawi] and refusing to transfer them to civilian hospitals for proper treatment.”
Ramzy Baroud, Palestine Chronicle
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.