It is good that the decision makers came to their senses at the last moment and agreed to set free soccer player Mahmoud Sarsak, member of the Palestinian National Team – averting his imminent death in the Israeli prison. It is a pity that it took three months of hunger strike, which might leave its marks on his health for life. The fact that it was now agreed to release him casts grave doubts on the secret and unknowable ‘security considerations’ which had led to Sarsak’s detention in the first place and which have now suddenly evaporated and disappeared.
Those responsible for this detention have clearly scored an Israeli own goal. A senior Palestinian soccer player was detained and held in Israeli prisons for years, without trial, without charges and with no evidence given of any illegal act. The State of Israel exposed itself to sharp protests by such renowned soccer players as Eric Cantona, who just a few years ago held a friendly visit to Israel and participated in a tournament at Netanya and has now become a harsh critic of Israeli policies. The International Football Federation felt obliged to speak up and use its influence to save a Palestinian soccer player whose life was in danger. It is worth remembering that the global sports boycott on Apartheid South Africa began when it became clear that the policy of oppression and discrimination against Blacks had direct and tangible effects in sports. More generally, it is worth remembering that the occupation, lasting already for forty-five years, entails daily acts of oppression against the Palestinians, an oppression which is inevitably leading Israel to international isolation and the status of a pariah nation.