While millions all over Europe have been feasting on the European Football Championships this past week, Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Al Sarsak remains on hunger strike in Israeli detention in protest at being held for almost three years without being convicted of a crime. At time of writing he has been on hunger strike for over 80 days and his condition is deteriorating rapidly.
Mahmoud was arrested in July 2009 while travelling from his home in Gaza to the West Bank to train with the Palestinian national football team. He had obtained a permit to travel from the Israeli authorities beforehand and yet upon arriving at the Erez Crossing in the Gaza Strip he was arrested and taken for interrogation. He is being held under the Unlawful Combatant Law, which allows Israel to detain Palestinians from Gaza indefinitely without charge or criminal proceedings being brought to court. This means that Mahmoud has not been given any opportunity to hear the evidence against him or defend himself. Moreover, he has been prevented from having any contact with his family whilst in detention.
As with every other Palestinian prisoner held by Israel, Mahmoud was transferred to a prison outside of the Occupied Territories. This is illegal under Articles 49 and 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of prisoners from an occupied territory to that of the occupying state.
UN Special Envoy to the Occupied Territories, Richard Falk, has called for the 25 year old's release, saying that 'he has suffered immensely.'
Mahmoud was only recently visited by an independent doctor in detention, but he continues to be denied treatment in an outside hospital.
The Palestinian prisoners' support organisation, Addameer, have posted on its website a list of demands by the Palestinian Council of Human Rights Organisations (PCHRO), which is a coalition of 21 Palestinian human rights organisations operating in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel. (PHRI). They
- demand that all hunger strikers in advanced stages are moved immediately to civilian hospitals where they can receive the standard of care necessary;
- call for immediate intervention for the IPS to provide all hunger strikers with unrestricted access to independent doctors;
- demand that all hunger strikers are allowed family visits;
- urge the Member States of the United Nations to urgently put pressure on Israel to end its policy of arbitrary detention and to abide by the standard rules for the treatment of prisoners adopted in 1955, which set out what is generally accepted as being decent principle and practice in the treatment of prisoners;
- call on the European Parliament to activate the parliamentary fact-finding mission that includes members of its Subcommittee on Human Rights to investigate the conditions of detention of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons;
- emphasise that the parliamentary fact-finding mission must include an investigation into Israel's illegal practice of administrative detention and the use of the "Unlawful Combatant Law";
- urge Members of the European Parliament to bring the case of all three hunger strikers to the attention of relevant Israeli authorities without delay.
Notable has been the lack of press coverage of Mahmoud's plight in the West. This follows the pattern set when 2000 Palestinian prisoners staged a mass hunger recently over Israel's policy of holding prisoners indefinitely under the Orwellian category of administrative detention, which like the Unlawful Combatant Law allows the Israeli authorities to hold prisoners indefinitely.
As the European Football Championships dominate the minds of football fans in the UK and across Europe, in Israel a young Palestinian football players clings to life in protest at being held in prison for almost three years without being convicted of a crime.
Consequently, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that Mahmoud Al Sarsak's only crime in the eyes if his Israeli captors is to be a Palestinian.
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