FIFA urges Israel’s Football Association to intervene in the case of detained Palestinian footballers

Protesters in Gaza demonstrating for Palestinian national football player and detained hunger striker Mahmoud Sarsak. Photo: joegaza/Flickr

14.06.2012

By Steve Menary
FIFA president Sepp Blatter has asked Avi Luzon, the president of the Israel Football Association, to “act with the utmost urgency” and intervene in the Israel state’s controversial internment of Palestinian footballers.

A number of Palestinian players have been detained by Israeli authorities and the Palestine Football Association and players body FIFPro both asked Blatter to take action after one player, 25-year-old Mahmoud Sarsak, was reported to be critically ill after a lengthy hunger-strike.

In a faxed letter to Luzon, Blatter writes: “The enclosed reports [from the PFA] state that in apparent violation of their integrity and human rights and without the apparent right of a due process (trial), several Palestine football players have allegedly been illegally detained by Israeli authorities.

“FIFA urgently calls on the [IFA] to draw the attention of the Israeli competent authorities to the present matter, with the aim of ensuring the physical integrity of the concerned players as well as their right for due process. In view of the alarming situation apparently faced by the player Mahmoud Sarsak, we kindly ask the IFA to act with the utmost urgency.”

In response, an IFA spokesman said: ““The IFA has received the letter and will respond to FIFA in the next few days”. Sarsak has been imprisoned without trial for three years because he is classed by the Israeli government as an illegal combatant with links to the Islamic Jihad Movement.

According to the PFA’s letter to Blatter dated June 9 Sarsak has not eaten for 85 days. His situation is described as “critical” by human rights organisation Addameer. FIFPro’s vice-president and president of FIFPro Division Europe Philippe Piat, said: “It is written down in FIFA Regulations that players must be allowed to play for the national team of their country. But actually for some footballers it is impossible to defend the colours of their country. They cannot cross the border. They cannot visit their family. They are locked up. This is an injustice.”

Other Palestinian players imprisoned include 23-year-old Olympic keeper Omar Khaled Abu Reis and Mohammad Saadi Ibrahim Nimer, a 22-year old player from the Al-Amaari club, who have both been held without trial since February 2012.

“For athletes in Palestine, there is no real freedom of movement, and the risks of being detained or even killed are always looming before our eyes,” said PFA president General Jibril Rajoub in his letter to Blatter, which was also sent to UEFA president Michel Platini and FIFA vice president Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan.

"What is happening is a direct violation of FIFA regulations that players must be allowed to play for the national team of their country, and it happens in total disregard to all agreements signed by the Israel side.”

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