Footballing Organizations Must Intervene in Case of Palestinian Hunger Strikers

Today, Tuesday 5th June, the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) called on the Irish Government to intervene to save the lives of two Palestinian political prisoners, Mahmoud Sarsak and Akram Rikhawi who have been on hunger strike for 80 days and 61 days respectively. The IPSC also called on the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), the Irish Football Association (IFA), UEFA and FIFA to publicly raise the issue of Mr. Sarsak who is a member of the Palestinian national soccer team.
Mahmoud Sarsak from Gaza’s Rafah refugee camp was detained by the Israeli military on July 22, 2009, when he arrived at the Erez/Gaza checkpoint on his way to the West Bank after getting Israeli permission to join the Palestinian National Team team there. At the checkpoint he was detained, interrogated for 30 days and since then he has been held without charge or trial under Israel’s Internment of Unlawful Combatants Law – a law described by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem as “unconstitutional” and not in “comport with international law”. Despite receiving no charges, 25-year-old Sarsak’s detention order has been renewed six times. After the sixth renewal, Sarsak embarked on an open-ended hunger strike on 19 March and is now on his 80th day of food refusal.
Akram Rikhawi from Gaza was arrested by Israeli occupation forces in 2004 and sentenced to 9 years’ imprisonment by a military court. He has been held in a prison medical centre ever since, as he suffers from various chronic conditions, including diabetes, asthma and osteoporosis. Rikhawi launched his hunger strike on 12 April, demanding that his medical condition be considered during the discussion of his request for an earlier release. Every prisoner is entitled to ask to be considered for early release when at least two thirds of the sentence has been served. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel has been trying to gain access to Akram since 6 May, but have been consistently denied.
On May 30, the Israeli court gave the prison authorities a long period, until June 10, before they should even allow the two striking prisoners access to independent doctors, in spite of the immediate danger to their lives.
In an urgent distress appeal two days ago, the two prisoners said that “there is still enough time and the support that comes late is better than that which does not come at all. It is better that you receive us alive and victorious rather than as lifeless bodies in black bags… Our people, our leaders in Gaza, in the West Bank and outside, and freedom loving people of the world, we cry out to you, and to all people in the world who believe in the justice of our cause: do not abandon us to the vindictive hands of the jailers to take what they want from our frail bodies”.
IPSC Chairperson Mr. Martin O’Quigley said “It is imperative that the Irish government intervene immediately to save the lives of these two prisoners of Israel’s apartheid regime. The IPSC also calls on the FAI, IFA, UEFA and FIFA to speak out on behalf of Mahmoud Sarsak, who was once of an unmatched athletic build and a rising star of Palestinian football, but who is now, according to reports, gaunt beyond recognition and on death’s doorstep. As the European Championships loom in Poland and Ukraine, please don’t allow the Israeli occupation to end this young footballer’s life”.
Mr. O’Quigley continued: “Israel’s brutal, repressive and punitive prison regime is only one aspect of the occupation of Palestine by Israel and its associated Apartheid regime. Indeed, when one considers the ongoing siege of Gaza and fragmentation of the West Bank, Palestine can be viewed as one large open air prison camp. The IPSC calls for the end of the Administrative Detention policy and Unlawful Combatants Law, both used to intern people without charge, an end to the system of military courts which do not meet standards of international law, and for the freedom of all Palestinian political prisoners”.
Mr. O’Quigley concluded: “Finally, the IPSC calls on people, governments and businesses of conscience to heed the Palestinian call for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel until  is complies fully with its obligations under international law and the Palestinian people enjoy true freedom, justice and equality.”


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