On Tuesday, 10 July 2012, Israel’s authorities released Mahmoud Kamel al-Sersek (25), from Rafah, who was detained in Israel’s jails for 3 years, in accordance with an agreement reached between al-Sersek’s lawyer and Israel’s authorities on 19 June 2012. Under this agreement, al-Sersek ended his open-ended hunger strike. When he arrived in Gaza, al-Sersek was transferred to al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City for necessary medical treatment.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) congratulates al-Sersek on this achievement, and calls upon the international community to exert pressure on Israel’s authorities to compel them to release all Palestinians placed under administrative detention or detained under the term of ‘unlawful combatant.’
It should be noted that al-Sersek, a member of the Palestinian National Football Team, was arrested by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF), on 15 July 2009 at the Beit Hanoun “Erez” crossing, while he was traveling to the West Bank to join his new team, the Balata Sports Club, in Nablus. Since then, he has been detained as an “unlawful combatant” in the Negev prison inside Israel. Al-Sersek started an open-ended hunger strike on 19 March 2012 in protest of his detention.
Due to his long hunger strike, his health has seriously deteriorated. It was reported at one point that he had lost 30 kg. He also suffered from problems in his heart, intestines and vision, as well as a general weakness throughout his body, as a result of his long hunger strike. Nonetheless, he refused several attempts by the IOF to convince him to end his hunger strike with only verbal promises to release him. Ninety-five days after he started his hunger strike, al-Sersek’s lawyer reached an agreement with the IOF to release him on 10 July 2012, in exchange for ending his hunger strike.
Many mobilization and advocacy activities were organized by international and local human rights organizations and activists with the aim to exert pressure on the IOF and to compel Israel to release al-Sersek, out of fear for his life. The UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, Mr. Richard Falk, expressed deep concern over the conditions of al-Sersek, while FIFA President Mr. Sepp Blatter criticized the on-going detention of Palestinian National Footballer, Mahmoud al-Sersek, by the IOF.
On Tuesday, 12 June 2012, Raji Sourani, Director of PCHR, addressed FIFA President Sepp Blatter, pleading: “We urge you to use all available means, including approaching the relevant Israeli authorities, to save the life of Mr. Al-Sersek and help him return again to the football pitch.”
“Your voice will constitute a message of hope for the thousands around the world who believe that sport, and football in particular, can contribute to enhancing human dignity,” Sourani added.
It should be noted that there are still 3 Palestinian prisoners on an open-ended hunger strike in Israel’s jails, as follows:
1. Akram Abdullah Mahmoud Rikhawi (39), from Gaza, has been in detention since 07 June 2004. He started an open-ended hunger strike on 12 April 2012 and now suffers from many health problems.
2. Sami Helmi al-Barq (36), from Jayyous village in Qalqilya, has been in administrative detention since 11 June 2011. He has been on hunger strike since 22 May 2012.
3. Hassan Zahi al-Safadi (34), from Nablus, has been in administrative detention since 29 June 2011. He has been on hunger strike since 21 June 2012.
PCHR congratulates al-Sersek on his release and:
1. Calls upon the international community to exert pressure on the IOF to compel them to release the other 3 Palestinian prisoners who are on hunger strike;
2. Calls upon human rights organizations and international solidarity organizations to put an end to the misuse of administrative detention by the IOF, based on the term ‘unlawful combatant,’ in violation of the fundamental right to a fair trial; and
3. Notes with grave concern the deterioration of living conditions of more than 4,700 Palestinian prisoners in Israel’s jails.