Nearly three months without food, as Israel looks away

Richard Sudan writes: Akram Rikhawi, one of many Palestinian political prisoners said to be held by the Israeli government, without charge and without seeing a trial, today will enter his 64th day on hunger strike. 64 days without food. As he does, 25 year old former Palestinian national team footballer Mahmoud Sarsak enters his 88th day on hunger strike, the longest any detainee has gone through such an ordeal in an Israeli jail. That’s nearly 3 months without food.

Once a star athlete and now according to physicians, having lost 33 percent of his body weight, Sarsak has been detained since 2009, but without having seen any judicial proceedings. It’s also nearly 3 years since he saw any family members. Sarsak is from the village of Rafah, in the southern part of the Gaza strip. Having seen no trial, instead, for Sarsak, he has been subjected to a continued process of administrative detention, which the state has the discretion to continue indefinitely, but which has no legal precedent according to international law. It’s what led him to begin a hunger strike in the first place. Now both mens’ health is in dire condition. Their defiance and steadfastness in the face of such brutal and psychological oppression may ignite another mass hunger strike similar to the one which came to an end last month. Such is the seriousness of the situation facing the men, that when Palestinian and Israeli human rights organisations, upon visiting the men last week, issued a statement calling for immediate international intervention in order to save the men.

After Sarsak’s condition deteriorated rapidly at the weekend, it was reported yesterday that he had agreed to take milk upon advice from his lawyer Mohammad Jabarein, to keep him alive until at least today when a judicial review is due to take place. According to Jabarein “The 25-year-old prisoner has decided that if the Supreme Court does not agree to release him he will refuse all supplements until his death”.

While most of the Football World is focusing on the European competition right now, there have been some statements of support for Mahmoud Sarsak at least. This week footballing icon Eric Cantona and head of Fifa Sepp Blatter sent a letter Uefa’s Michel Platini reportedly signed by other individuals including Noam Chomsky and Michael Mansfield QC, making clear their support for Sarsak calling for his release.

But it is hard to imagine the same outpouring of sympathy for Sarsak, or any of the hunger strikers, equal to the outpouring of concern that was shown when footballer Patrice Muamba’s life hung in the balance recently following his collapse on the pitch. If these alleged human rights abuses were taking place anywhere else there would simply be a greater level of attention paid to them. It is not hard to see what evokes such desperation. [Continue reading…]

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