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Palestinian Soccer Player Mahmoud Sarsak to Be Released By Israel After Three-Month Hunger Strike

UPDATE: Mahmoud Sarsak's lawyer says he has agreed to resume eating and will be released July 10 in a deal with Israel.

Mahmoud Sarsak, a brilliant young member of the Palestinian national soccer team and resident of the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza, has been illegally imprisoned by Israel for the last three years of his life. 

In an act of non-violent resistance to protest his detainment, he has been on hunger strike for 90 days and his life now hangs in the balance. His health is in critical condition. Sarsak is teaching the world through his hunger strike that by having the courage to stand up for your dignity and peacefully resisting injustice, your voice will be heard loud and clear, even in the face of immense adversity. Around the world, people are demanding his immediate release.

Sarsak was arrested while on his way to join the Balata soccer club team in Nablus in the West Bank. He was imprisoned under the Internment of Unlawful Combatants Law of 2002, an Israeli law that allows Palestinians to be held without charge and a trial. 

Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has said this law does not comply “with international law, is unconstitutional, and is in any event unnecessary,” an infringement of a person basic human rights. In addition, detention can be for an indefinite period and prisoners are not informed of the charges against them, thus unable to refute them. Currently Sarsak is the only person to be imprisoned under this law. Sarak went on hunger strike on March 19th 2012 to peacefully protest his detainment.

Since his arrest about three years ago, the Israeli Security Agency has not allowed him to speak to his family and because Israel prohibits family visits for prisoners from the Gaza Strip, his family has not been able to visit him. Sarsak’s family released a letter in May calling for the international community to show solidarity and support to demand his release and the people have been listening.

Prominent figures rallying around Sarsak include Manchester United legend Eric Cantona, FIFA President Sepp Blatter, UEFA President Michel Platini, and Noam Chomsky. The International Federation of Professional Footballers (FIFPro), an organization representing 50,000 professional players around the world, has also called for his immediate release, calling the situation an injustice.

FIFA expressed concern over the situation, urging the Israeli Football Association to intercede on the matter. FIFA stated, “The reports FIFA received state that in apparent violation of their integrity and human rights and without the apparent right to a due process (trial), several Palestine football players have allegedly been illegally detained by Israeli authorities.”

There is no freedom of movement for many living in Palestine. Sarak’s case is not a rare one as many Palestinians are held in Israeli prisons for indefinite periods of times and separated from their families. Sarsak is one of 4400 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits occupied peoples (Palestinians) from being detained in an occupying power’s (Israel) territory. Still, Israel continues to breach international law without repercussions. It’s dismaying to think Israel will host the 2013 U21 Euro Championships and for the sake of justice, the UEFA should reconsider its decision.

Through Sarsak’s courageous hunger strike, more people around the world are beginning to see Israel's illegal treatment of Palestinians as an occupying power and showing solidarity. The Palestinian prisoner's crisis remains a critical issue as Israel continues to act in bad faith by renewing detention of prisoners and continues restrictions of prisoners. The world must to give due attention to the plight of the prionsers and unite to call for an end to Israel's repressive and illegal policies. 

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