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(Wissam Nassar / Maan Images)

Football activism group in solidarity with imprisoned Palestinian footballer and all hunger strikers

Football Beyond Borders, a student-led international organization “which uses the universal power of football to tackle political, social and cultural issues” has issued a letter of solidarity with the thousands of Palestinian prisoners currently on hunger strike to protest Israel’s draconian policies of administrative detention and lack of basic human rights inside Israeli jails. 

In a press release sent to The Electronic Intifada, an FBB spokesperson noted that members of a delegation of theirs who traveled to Palestine last year as part of the FBB: Middle East 2011 project are standing in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike. Their statement of solidarity and support, which was released today, was sent concurrently to the Israeli Prison Service, the Military Advocate General, Israel’s minister of defense and the Israeli ambassador in the UK. 

The statement focused on the critical situation with Mahmoud Sarsak, a footballer on the Palestinian national team who was arrested and detained by Israeli forces in 2009, and has been in administrative detention ever since. Sarsak, as Rami Almeghari recently reported on The Electronic Intifada, is one of the approximately 2,000 Palestinian prisoners who have joined a collective hunger strike — many of whom are facing grave physical conditions. Sarsak was hospitalized a few weeks ago.

Along with this strong statement of solidarity, FBB also officially announced that it would be boycotting the Union of European Football Associations’ (UEFA) 2013 Under-21 European Championships, which is to be hosted by Israel. In June 2011, dozens of Palestinian athletic clubs sent a letter to the head of UEFA in protest of their decision to let Israel host the 2013 games. Almeghari added in his report on Sarsak that the letter cited the football star’s arbitrary detention “as one of the many abuses Israel carries out against the Palestinian athletic community.” 

FBB’s statement reads:

AN OPEN LETTER OF SOLIDARITY WITH MAHMOUD SARSAK AND ALL PALESTINIAN PRISONERS ON STRIKE IN ISRAELI PRISONS

Football Beyond Borders, a student-led organisation which uses the universal power of football to tackle political, social and cultural issues, stands in solidarity with Mahmoud Sarsak and all of the Palestinian political prisoners currently being detained by Israel on hunger strike, as together we protest the injustices being inflicted upon Palestinian prisoners in Israel, and draw attention to their plight.

There are currently over 2,000 Palestinian political prisoners who are on hunger strike in Israeli jails, protesting against detention without trial, prison conditions, isolation, and denial of family visits.

Mahmoud Sarsak, from Rafah in Gaza, is a member of the Palestinian national football squad, but has been unable to play since he was kidnapped by Israeli forces in July 2009, being held without trial in an Israeli prison ever since. The Israeli intelligence service Shabak has stated that Sarsak is (probably the only person) currently subjected to an “illegal combatant” law, and although he has not been officially tried for any recognisable offence, his administrative detention has been renewed every six months since his arrest. He has been allowed no visits from his friends or family in all of his time in prison.

Sarsak was arrested at the Erez checkpoint in Northern Gaza whilst en route to join the Palestinian national football team in the West Bank. He had been issued a permit to pass through Erez, which had been co-ordinated by the Palestinian Authority, but was detained by border guards and has been held in custody without trial ever since.

Sarsak has been on hunger strike since 24th March, and is currently held in the IPS medical centre in Ramleh, which is not a hospital, and according to Amnesty International is “inadequate for detainees on prolonged hunger strike, or detainees with serious medical conditions. It is not staffed with professional nurses or doctors and lacks the equipment for dealing with long-term hunger strikers.”

Two more extremely urgent cases are those of Bilal Diab and Tha’er Halahleh, who have both been on hunger strike for 71 days, and despite being in immediate risk of death, are still being denied access to independent physicians by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS).

Football Beyond Borders stands in solidarity with all of the striking prisoners, and calls on the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) to meet the demands of the striking prisoners and to grant all those on prolonged hunger strikes immediate medical treatment by independent physicians.

Football Beyond Borders also calls on Israel to end the practise of administrative detention, and for the immediate release of all Palestinian political prisoners currently held without having had a fair trial.

Football Beyond Borders also takes this opportunity to announce our official boycott of the UEFA 2013 Under-21 European Championships, which Israel has been awarded the honour of hosting.

Further announcements and planned actions will be made on this boycott in due course.

Signed,

Football Beyond Borders 
C/o SOAS University Students’ Union 
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square
London WC1H 0XG