Posted by on June 01, 2012 in Blog

By Nicole Abi-Esber

Palestinian soccer player Mahmoud Sarsak, who has been in Israeli administrative detention for the past three years, is currently on the 75th day of a hunger strike and his medical condition is increasingly critical.

Sarsak was arrested on July 22, 2009 at a checkpoint in Gaza, while travelling to the West Bank to play for the Palestinian national soccer team in an upcoming match. Since then, he has been held indefinitely without a trial or even a formal charge. This March, Sarsak joined thousands of Palestinian political prisoners in the largest prisoner hunger strike in Palestine to date. Sarsak decided to join the strikers after his administrative detention was extended for the sixth time without explanation. In a courageous act of nonviolent resistance, nearly 2,000 prisoners refused food for weeks, protesting the Israeli policy of administrative detention, the humiliating and abusive arrest procedures used by IDF soldiers, and the inhumane prison conditions endured by Palestinians in Israeli jails. Although Palestinian prisoners are granted the same rights as their Israeli counterparts, representatives from Israeli Physicians for Human Rights have documented that in practice, they suffer far worse treatment.

Most of these prisoners ended their strike in mid-May, when Israeli officials and representatives of the prisoners signed a deal in which the officials promised improved prison conditions and a reinstatement of family visits to prisoners, in return for a cessation of the hunger strike. However, not all hunger strikers agreed to the terms of this deal. Several prisoners who were also protesting their forced transfer from the West Bank into Israeli territory, a practice explicitly prohibited under the Fourth Geneva convention, continued to refuse food, and Mahmoud Sarsak is among them.

Sarsak’s father, Mahmoud Sarsak Sr., gave an interview to the BBC World Service’s World Football program this morning. He described his son’s worsening condition; after almost three months without food, the Palestinian national athlete has lost his hearing and his eyesight and is on the verge of death. The longest-ever hunger strike by a Palestinian lasted 77 days, and left him with life-threatening medical conditions. Sarsak, on day 75, may soon break this sordid record, and is likely to face lifelong medical problems if he does survive, according to his father. Representatives from the BBC World Football program said that requests to Israeli authorities for interviews or statements about the status of Mahmoud Sarsak went unanswered. Israeli prison services refuse to grant Sarsak a trial or transfer him to a civilian hospital for medical treatment, despite growing pressure from the international community.

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