BBC’s World Football interviews father of gravely ill hunger-striking Palestinian footballer jailed by Israel

The BBC World Service’s World Football program today broadcast an interview with Mahmoud Sarsak, the father of Mahmoud Sarsak, a member of the Palestinian national football squad whose life is at grave risk after 75 continuous days of hunger strike.

A podcast of the interview can be heard on the BBC World Service website.

Sarsak has been jailed by Israel without charge or trial for almost three years.

Arrested on way to a match, held without charge

According to Addameer, Sarsak was arrested on 22 July 2009 at Erez checkpoint as he traveled from his home in Gaza to join the Palestinian national team for a match in the Balata Refugee Camp in the West Bank.

A poster of Mahmoud Sarsak, and some of his athletic trophies. 

Rami Almeghari The Electronic Intifada

Sarsak was given a detention order on 23 August 2009, according to Israel’s “Unlawful Combatants Law,” in which Palestinians from Gaza can be held for an unlimited amount of time without charge or trial.

The elder Sarsak told World Football that he was desperately worried for his son who has reportedly lost his sight and may be close to death and that he believed Israel was holding his son in order to damage Palestinian football.

Sahar Francis, the director of Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer, also interviewed on the program, said that Israel had provided no evidence to justify, nor even opportunity for judicial review of his detention.

World Football said that the program’s requests to the Israeli Ministry for Justice and the Ministry for Internal Security for interviews about Sarsak’s case “went unanswered.”

Human rights groups issue “urgent” appeal for Sarsak

On 31 May Addameer, along with Al-Haq, and Physicians for Human Rights - Israel issued an urgent demand for action on behalf of Sarsak and Akram Rikhawi the second Palestinian prisoner who remains on long-term hunger strike:

Joint Statement, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and Al-Haq

Jaffa-Ramallah, 31 May 2012 - The health conditions of Mahmoud Sarsak, currently on his 74th day of hunger strike, and Akram Rikhawi, currently on his 50th day of hunger strike, are rapidly deteriorating.

Despite the urgency of their conditions, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) is still denying access to independent doctors from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) to visit them and refusing to transfer them to civilian hospitals for proper treatment. Judge Abraham Talgave of the Israeli District Court gave the IPS as much as a 12-day period from yesterday, 30 May, to permit the access of the independent doctors to both prisoners. PHR-Israel, Addameer and Al-Haq are outraged by the IPS’ blatant breach of health rights and by the Israeli District Court’s disregard of the immediate danger to their lives.

Mahmoud Sarsak entered his 74th day of hunger strike today. He launched his hunger strike on 19 March after his detention was extended for the sixth time on 1 March, in protest against his ongoing detention without charge or trial under Israel’s Unlawful Combatants Law. He was transferred to the IPS medical center in Ramleh prison on 16 April following the deterioration of his health. At one point during his hunger strike, Mahmoud was promised that his detention would not be extended and he would be released on 1 July if he agreed to end his hunger strike. Since he insisted to have the agreement in writing, the offer was withdrawn. He was not included in the final agreement that ended Palestinian prisoners’ mass hunger strike on 14 May, either in its written or oral form. When he inquired as to the date of his release, Mahmoud was told that it will only be considered at the next date of judicial review for his detention, on 22 August. During the last visit with an Addameer lawyer on 23 May, Mahmoud’s health was in such grave condition that he could only speak with her for a matter of moments.

Akram Rikhawi, also from the Gaza Strip, was arrested on 7 June 2004 and sentenced to 9 years imprisonment. He has been held in the Ramleh prison medical center since his arrest as he suffers from many different chronic conditions, including diabetes, asthma and osteoporosis. Akram launched his hunger strike on 12 April, demanding that his medical condition be considered during the discussion of his request for an earlier release. Every prisoner is entitled to ask to be considered for an earlier release when he has served at least two thirds of his sentence. PHR-Israel has been trying to gain access to Akram since 6 May, and has been consistently denied.

An appeal on behalf of Mahmoud and Akram was submitted by PHR-Israel to the District Court on 24 May to demand an immediate visit by independent doctors. The judge granted the IPS until 10 June to allow independent doctors access to both prisoners, in complete disregard of their grave health conditions and the possibility that time is running out. According to the World Medical Association, in most cases death occurs between the 42nd and 72nd days of hunger strike. The IPS medical center is not a hospital and is not properly equipped to handle the physical deterioration and effects of long-term hunger strike, in addition to the fragile recovery period post-hunger strike. Furthermore, in a civilian hospital there are better opportunities for creating conditions that will allow open and trustworthy dialogue between doctor and patient. Such dialogue may be essential in bringing about an agreed upon resolution, and save the lives and health of the patients.

PHR-Israel, Addameer and Al-Haq reiterate that these hunger strikers are in grave danger and urgently demand the following actions:

  • The IPS must immediately transfer Mahmoud Sarsak and Akram Rikhawi to a civilian hospital;
  • The IPS must allow immediate visits by independent doctors;
  • The IPS must immediately allow family visits to the hunger strikers;
  • Mahmoud Sarsak, held without charge or trial, must be immediately released;
  • A fair and objective review of Rikhawi’s request to shorten by a third his imprisonment period must be conducted.

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Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.