Mahmoud Sarsak (born 1987) is a Palestinian football player who was a member of the Palestine national football team. In 2012, Sarsak spent three months on hunger strike while imprisoned without trial in Israel on charges of being an unlawful combatant linked to the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine. Sarsak was released from prison on 10 July 2012.
Photo Johnny Leo Johansen(c) Oslo 2013
Sarsak began his career with local teams based in Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip. At the age of 17 he participated in a Norwegian youth tournament. He was later called up to the Palestine national youth team to play against Iraq.
Detention and hunger strike
Sarsak was arrested on 22 July 2009 at the Erez Crossing, while travelling between his home in Gaza and the West Bank to link up with his new club Balata Youth in Balata. He was detained for allegedly being an unlawful combatant linked to the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (commonly known as Islamic Jihad). The Shin Bet general security service alleged that he had once planted a bomb that injured an Israeli soldier. The agency said it did not have sufficient evidence for a trial and Sarsak was held for three years without formal charges.
He began his hunger strike on 19 March 2012, after his administrative detention was renewed for the sixth time. He received on-off intravenous drips throughout his strike, and on 14 May rejected a deal which ended a month-long hunger strike by other Palestinian prisoners. He insisted on being given prisoner-of-war status, on account of his having been detained under Israel’s Unlawful Combatants Law; and refused an offer from Israeli authorities under which he would be exiled to Norway for three months. During his strike, Sarsak lost nearly half his usual weight.
Palestinian officials and doctors said on 14 June that Sarsak had resumed drinking milk after meeting with Israeli officials. On June 18, Sarsak’s lawyer said he had agreed a deal to end his hunger strike in return for being released on July 10.
On 8 June 2012 FIFPro, which represents professional footballers from across the globe, called for his immediate release. This was followed by similar calls from Eric Cantona, Frédéric Kanouté, UEFA President Michel Platini, FIFA President Sepp Blatter. Outside of football, film director Ken Loach and author Noam Chomsky also requested his release. On 14 June, Amnesty International called for Sarsak to be admitted to hospital or released, citing his having been denied proper access to medical treatment, which they argued amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment.
The Palestinian Football Federation (PFF) asked UEFA to remove Israel as hosts of the 2013 UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship in response to its detention of Sarsak, which the PFF described as being in “direct violation of Fifa regulations”. Platini rejected the request and rebuked the PFF for lobbying against Israel. Blatter and International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge supported Platini’s decision.
On July 10, 2012, Israel released Sarsak from prison. Also following his release, Amnesty International expressed “relief” and called on Israel to end the use of administrative detention.