Following Hunger Strike, Palestinian Soccer Star Released from Prison

Cristina Kladis

In anoth­er vic­to­ry result­ing from a series of hunger strikes by Pales­tin­ian pris­on­ers this spring, Pales­tin­ian nation­al soc­cer team mem­ber Mah­moud al-Sarsak was released from an Israeli prison on Tues­day amidst cel­e­bra­tion from sup­port­ers. Fol­low­ing a 90-day hunger strike, al-Sarsak had agreed last month to stop the strike in exchange for free­dom.Al-Sarsak began his strike in March to protest his three-year deten­tion with­out charge or tri­al. After a brief pause al-Sarsak resumed the strike in April, along with about 1,500 oth­er Pales­tin­ian pris­on­ers, to protest Israel’s pol­i­cy of admin­is­tra­tive deten­tion.In July 2009, al-Sarsak was arrest­ed as an unlaw­ful com­bat­ant while on the way to sign a con­tract with a soc­cer team in the West Bank.  Israel claimed al-Sarsak was active in the Islam­ic Jihad, which Israel, the Unit­ed States and oth­er coun­tries clas­si­fy as a ter­ror­ist group.  Al-Sarsak was said to have helped train mil­i­tants and plant bombs.  Al-Sarsak denied all alle­ga­tions against him.   
Israel’s “ille­gal com­bat­ants law” allows the deten­tion of any­one alleged to be “tak­ing part in hos­tile activ­i­ty against Israel, direct­ly or indi­rect­ly.”In 2002, when Israel first unveiled the law, Human Rights Watch char­ac­ter­ized it as “per­verse leg­is­la­tion [that] dis­re­gards basic prin­ci­ples of inter­na­tion­al law.” Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Mid­dle East and North Africa divi­sion of Human Rights Watch Han­ny Mega­l­ly said:In times of armed con­flict inter­na­tion­al law rec­og­nizes two cat­e­gories of individuals—combatants and civil­ians.  The new law is just anoth­er exam­ple of Israel ignor­ing and manip­u­lat­ing inter­na­tion­al legal stan­dards to suit its own pur­pos­es.Al-Sarsak, who appeared to be in sta­ble con­di­tion, was imme­di­ate­ly deliv­ered in an ambu­lance to Shi­fa hos­pi­tal in Gaza City, where rel­a­tives and sup­port­ers wait­ed for his arrival.“Mah­moud al-Sarsak has his name writ­ten in the records of hon­or and glo­ry, and what he did will make us more adamant to stand in the face of occu­pa­tion,” Islam­ic Jihad leader Nafith Azzam said in a news con­fer­ence. For­mer Man­ches­ter Unit­ed play­er Eric Can­tona and FIFA Pres­i­dent Sepp Blat­ter were two notable fig­ures who called for the release of 25-year-old al-Sarak.  Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al also called for the release and treat­ment of al-Sarsak.“After almost three years in deten­tion, the Israeli author­i­ties have had ample oppor­tu­ni­ty to charge al-Sarsak with a rec­og­niz­able crim­i­nal offence and bring him to tri­al,” Amnesty International’s Mid­dle East and North Africa Direc­tor Philip Luther said.  “They have failed to do so, and instead repeat­ed­ly affirmed his deten­tion order on the basis of secret infor­ma­tion with­held from him and his lawyer.”In May more than a third of Pales­tin­ian pris­on­ers agreed to call off their month-long hunger strike in exchange for bet­ter con­di­tions in Israeli pris­ons.  Al-Sarsak was not includ­ed in the May deal, but reached a deal for release through a sep­a­rate nego­ti­a­tion with his lawyer.  Now al-Sarsak is the lat­est Pales­tin­ian hunger strik­er to be released from prison.    But Pales­tin­ian hunger strikes still con­tin­ue in Israeli pris­ons, as do indef­i­nite deten­tions of Pales­tini­ans with­out tri­als or for­mer charges.  Omar Abu Rois, Pales­tin­ian Olympic goal­keep­er, is cur­rent­ly being held in Israel with­out tri­al.  Akram al-Rekhawi, an Islamist Hamas mem­ber who has been on an inter­mit­tent hunger strike for about as long as al-Sarsak, is seek­ing an ear­ly release from his nine-year sen­tence, for which he has served eight, due to his frail phys­i­cal condition.
Cristi­na Kladis is an In These Times sum­mer 2012 intern.
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