Monthly Archives: June 2012


Scottish protesters demonstrate their vociferous support for Palestinian footballers illegally detained by Israel

SIGN THIS BRAND NEW PETITION – UEFA President Michel Platini: Remove UEFA 2013 European Under-21 Championship from Israel

It’s good to know that Britain’s political leaders care so deeply “about the rule of law and selective justice” in Ukraine, that government ministers declined to attend the England football team’s quarter final Euro 2012 match there on Sunday (June 24).

Strange, then, that the illegal and unjust treatment of Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak – whose family is waiting anxiously to see if Israel will stand by a promise to release him after three months on hunger strike and three years in prison without charge or trial – elicits no such concern from the British government.

Nor, even more shamefully, from UEFA, which has reaffirmed its decision to let Israel host next year’s under-21 competition.

A clear message from a protester in Wrexham

Palestinian FA president Jibril Rajoub wrote to UEFA president Michel Platini pleading with him to withdraw the U-21 from Israel.

He said that in addition to Sarsak, Israel was detaining two more footballers, Olympic squad goalkeeper Omar Abu Rois and Ramallah player Mohammed Nimr, and that Palestinian athletes lack freedom of movement and face the constant risk “of being detained or even killed”.

Platini acknowledged that UEFA had come under “a certain amount of pressure” but he ignored the points Rajoub made and reprimanded him for allowing the content of his letter to enter the public domain.

UEFA was “apolitical”, Platini declared, and proceeded to show his impartiality by telling Israeli Football Association President Avi Luzon in a separate letter that he was looking forward to Israel hosting “a beautiful celebration of football that, once again, will bring people together.”

The contempt for Palestine and its footballers exhibited by the man in charge of European football’s governing body is breathtaking. Platini must not be allowed to get away with peddling the idea that sport can be regarded as “apolitical” in a state which wantonly prevents Palestinian footballers from training and playing, brands them terrorists and imprisons them at will.

More than 300 Palestinians are held without charge or trial along with more than 4000 other political prisoners, all detained illegally in Israeli prisons. Akram Rikhawi has been on hunger strike for more than 70 days in protest at his detention and  Hassan Safadi, who ended a 71 day hunger strike on 14 May, has resumed his fast after Israel breached a deal to free him.

And yet Platini suggests that the state responsible for this could hold a “beautiful celebration” that will “bring people together”.

Fortunately these bankrupt arguments don’t wash with many of those responsible for the pressure to which Platini referred. These include French footballing legend Eric Cantona, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, filmmaker Ken Loach and others who called for an end to Israel’s impunity in a letter to Platini  on June 12.

They questioned why Ukraine was challenged (rightly) over its human rights record  while Israel was not.  “Racism, human rights abuses and gross violations of international law are daily occurrences in that country,” their letter said.

Loach, who last year endorsed  a Palestinian call for Israel to be stripped of hosting the 2013 under 21s,  told the Red Card Israeli Apartheid campaign:  “The promised release of Mahmoud al-Sarsak shows what can be done by international  pressure. Let’s hope that Mahmoud is returned home as promised. Now, let’s turn our attention to all the other Palestinians detained illegally in Israeli prisons.”

The campaign to free Sarsak has brought the plight of Palestinians to world attention, with support from the international federation of professional footballers FIFpro, 20 French players include Frederic Kanoute, Nicolas Anelka and Abou Diaby, the UK Professional Footballers’ Association, and even Sepp Blatter, the president of the international federation of football associations, FIFA. See previous post for a summary.

British comedian Mark Steel lampooned the Israeli position in the Independent newspaper.

“In 2006, [the Palestinian national team] were top of their World Cup qualifying group when the entire team was refused a visa for their match with Uzbekistan,” Steel wrote.

“ I suppose this must be because the whole team was in Islamic Jihad, and they were employing that old terrorist trick of becoming the national football team, then qualifying for the World Cup finals from where it’s a simple step to start an insurrection.”

Former UK Member of Parliament John Austin said in a letter to the Guardian: “Earlier this year, the UN determined that Israel’s policies in the occupied Palestinian territories violate the UN’s convention prohibiting apartheid. Uefa should reconsider its decision to hold its under-21 championship in Israel in 2013. ”

An Israeli Embassy functionary alleged in response that Sarsak was a terrorist and that calling him a “young Palestinian footballer” was “insulting to footballers”.

He was swiftly answered by Dr Ghada Khami: “If Israel’s press attache knows so much about Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak’s “crimes”, why hasn’t his government formally charged Sarsak with them or put him on trial in three years of detention? Or indeed any of the other 300 Palestinians held in Israeli administrative detention?”

The campaign to strip Israel of the under 21 competition has generated increasingly creative forms of protest.

Wrexham Peace and Justice Forum used this striking image to drive home their message that Israel is unfit to host international sporting events

Dutch activists produced this highly effective little film

About 140 protesters in Scotland added to the 8-0 humiliation of the Israeli national women’s team in a European championship qualifying match on June 17 with a large, energetic demonstration in the stands.

“Free Mahmoud Sarsak” was interspersed throughout ninety minutes of non-stop chanting with “Without guns, you’re rubbish” and multiple versions of “Boycott apartheid Israel”.  The protestors warned the Scottish players of Israel’s habit of calling in an air strike when losing in a fair fight.

Mainstream sports reports couldn’t ignore the protests.

Red Card Israeli Apartheid banner at the Welsh demonstration on June 20.

At a similar fixture in Wales three days later, around 50 activists picketed the main entrance and several  were thrown out of the football ground for wearing Palestinian team shirts, holding Palestinian flags or just for chanting Free Palestine.

The head of security told campaigners he had orders from UEFA to remove any signs of support for the Palestinian people from the stadium.

J-BIG supporters joined the Red Card Israeli Apartheid picket in Wales.

 A report made it into the Israeli media.

The Zionist Jewish Chronicle covered the football story in some detail.


While an Israeli judicial committee weighs the life of footballer Mahmoud Sarsak in the balance,  European football’s governing body is busy demonstrating the bankruptcy of the idea that sport has nothing to do with politics.

A vigil for Mahmoud Sarsak outside Ramle prison

Replying by email to journalists who inquired on Friday about the Palestinian call for Israel to be stripped of hosting the under-21 championships next year, UEFA’s media services department said the organisation was “of the opinion that football – and sport in general – are building bridges between nations and communities and that political matters should not interfere with the practice of the game.

” We are therefore committed to offer all of our 53 member associations – including the Israeli FA – their national teams, clubs and supporters, the opportunity to participate in our competition and in the development of football acrossEurope.  And it is with this in mind that the UEFA Executive Committee awarded the organisation of the final tournament of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship 2013 to Israel.”

In other words, despite international outcry at the unlawful detention without charge or trial of Sarsak and other Palestinian footballers, among 4000+ other political prisoners held in Israeli jails, UEFA rewards the state which perpetrates these outrages.

The Palestinian Football Association, previously wary of angering the Israel authorities on which it depends for facilities to bring a Palestinian team to the  London Olympics,  specifically called on UEFA to dismiss Israel as youth championship host.

“We ask your excellency not to give Israel the honour of hosting the next UEFA U21 Championship in 2013,” PFA President Jibril Rajoub said in a letter to UEFA president Michel Platini.

“For athletes in Palestine, there is no real freedom of movement and the risks of being detained or even killed are always looming before their eyes,” Rajoub wrote, noting that in addition to Sarsak, Olympic squad goalkeeper Omar Abu Rois and Ramallah player Mohammed Nimr were also being held by Israel without charge.

The Jerusalem Post put its own spin on the story, accusing the Palestinian Authority of politicising the situation and demonstrating  how vital the 2013 U-21 games are to Israel’s attempts to sanitise its tainted image.

“European soccer’s brightest talents are set to grace Israeli soccer stadiums next June after Israel beat out Bulgaria, Czech Republic, England and Wales to host the Under-21 championships and the IFA (Israeli Football Association) is confident the tournament will go ahead as planned,” JP said

It quoted the IFA: “We are certain that FIFA and UEFA will not mix politics with soccer and are certain that the Under-21 European Championships will take place, as decided, in Israel next summer.”

UEFA should understand that the only “bridges” built by its complicity with Israeli propaganda are the Jewish-only roads  that link the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank to the institutionally racist state.

Sport cannot build bridges when one community wields state power to imprison and oppress another. The idea that politics can be separated from sport in this situation is clearly untenable.

The UEFA media statement rings particularly hollow given Platini’s refusal even to acknowledge an appeal a year ago from 42 Palestinian football clubs in Gaza calling on the organisation not to reward Israel for its racism and illegality.

On Friday (June 15), the Red Card Israeli Apartheid campaign reminded UK Sports Minister Hugh Robertson of this, handing in a letter summarising the burgeoning support for  the Palestinian footballers.

The campaign urged Robertson to act upon an earlier letter to him and Platini, signed by eminent figures including former football legend Éric Cantona, filmmaker Ken Loach, Michael Mansfield, QC, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and writer Alice Walker. They had addressed racist oppression in Israel as exemplified by the treatment of Sarsak and called for an end to Israel’s impunity.

Recent days have seen a growing chorus of calls from footballing organisations and individuals calling for Mahmoud Sarsak’s release:

FIFA, the International Football Association,

FIFPro, the World Association of Professional Footballers

Thirty six French footballers including Frederic Kanoute, Nicolas Anelka and Abou Diaby 

Gordon Taylor, president of the Professional Footballers’ Association in the UK, told a campaign supporter by email:

“As the founding member of FIFPro and Executive member of the Board, we fully support FIFPro’s call for the release from prison of Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak.”

By rejecting calls from Palestinians and their supporters, UEFA is actively encouraging the state of Israel to continue perpetrating human rights abuses and defying international law. In this it is only following the example of Israel’s allies among the major colonial powers, especially the United States.

While 25-year-old Mahmoud Sarsak awaits death or deliverance in an Israeli jail, U.S. President Barack Obama honored Israeli President Shimon Peres with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. According to CBS, “Obama praised Peres for using his outlook on the Middle East to fortify the relationship between the United States and Israel.”

In the face of such hypocrisy and injustice, activists in many countries have been inspired to hold protests at sports ministries and Israeli embassies and in Scotland, at Tynecastle Stadium, where Israel’s national women’s team went down to an 8-0 defeat on Saturday  in a women’s Euro qualifier.

The petition for Sarsak’s release is building signatures, though many more are needed.

All this has started, at last, to gain some exposure in UK and international media, allbeit considerably less than would be the case if the imprisoned sportsmen were anyone other than Palestinians held in Israel.

In addition to embedded links above, there were fair reports by Agence FrancePresse and Associated Press

Intelligent football commentary:

 A former MP had a letter published in the Guardian newspaper :

A blogpost on the Amnesty International website highlighted the issues:

Here are some other examples of coverage:


A modest boycott campaign set up a year ago to challenge the awarding of UEFA’s under 21 football championship in 2013 to Israel, has successfully mobilised high profile support for Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak, close to death after a long hunger strike in an Israeli jail.
Sarsak, 25, has been refusing food for almost three months in protest at his detention, without charge or trial, since July 2009.
Over just a few days, the Red Card Israeli Apartheid campaign, working together with award-winning filmmaker Ken Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty, mobilised support for a letter berating European government and football bodies for ignoring Sarsak’s plight and allowing Israel to get away with persistent human rights abuses and violations of international law. By Tuesday the legendary Eric Cantona had come on board, along with the UK’s Show Racism the Red Card campaign and several respected patrons of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.
A comprehensive news release sent to the media on Tuesday is reproduced below.
From the Red Card Israeli Apartheid CAMPAIGN

– Football legend Éric Cantona and world pro footballers association call for release of Mahmoud Sarsak, detained three years in Israel without charge or trial
– Footballer near death after 80+ days without eating, one of 308 Palestinian “administrative detainees”
– UEFA criticised for awarding Israel right to host 2013 Under-21 tournament
– Cantona, Show Racism the Red Card, Chomsky, Loach and others slam official silence over Israeli human rights abuses, noting contrast with condemnation of Euro 2012 host Ukraine
Leading sporting, cultural and academic figures, including football legend Éric Cantona, have thrown their weight behind a campaign in support of Mahmoud Sarsak, a Palestinian footballer from Gaza who is close to death after more than 80 days on hunger strike.
Sarsak, 25, was seized by Israeli authorities in July 2009 when he was a promising young star of the Palestinian national team attempting to travel to the occupied West Bank for a game.
The world professional footballers’ association  FIFPro said in a statement  Sarsak, who had lost about 30 kilos in weight, should be released from jail. He had been detained for three years without charge or trial. His family have not seen him since his initial arrest.
The organisation said it is “also very concerned about the situation of many other professional footballers in Palestine. . . .There are stories of other players who have been harassed, arrested or even killed.”
In a letter sent on Tuesday to UK Sports Minister Hugh Robertson and UEFA President Michel Platini, football legend Éric Cantona, the UK based Show Racism the Red Card campaign, MIT professor Noam Chomsky, John Dugard, Former Special UN Rapporteur on Palestine and film director Ken Loach, among others, called for the same concern to be shown over racism and human rights abuses in Israel as has been expressed over Poland and Ukraine, the Euro 2012 hosts.
They noted that human rights abuses and violations of international law occur daily in Israel, and ask: “why are these same (government and football) groups silent when Israel is to host the U.E.F.A. Under 21s competition in 2013?”
42 Gazan football clubs wrote a protest letter  to UEFA President Michel Platini  a year ago. They have received no reply.
Israeli jails house around 4,000 Palestinian political prisoners, violating Articles 49 and 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids the transfer of occupied peoples (Palestinians), to the territory of the occupier (Israel). More than 300 are “administrative detainees” like Sarsak, held without charge or trial.
The letter concludes: “It is time to end Israel’s impunity and to insist on the same standards of equality, justice and respect for international law that we demand of other states”.

1.   Full text of letter addressed to Sports Minister Hugh Robertson, UEFA President Michel Platini and other European government and sporting bodies:
‘We are all shocked at the racist chanting at football matches in Poland and Ukraine where Euro 2012 is being played. Footballing bodies and politicians have been outspoken in their condemnation. Indeed some government officials are boycotting group stage matches in Ukraine because of perceived human rights abuses in that country.
So why are these same groups silent when Israel is to host the U.E.F.A. Under 21s competition in 2013? Racism, human rights abuses and gross violations of international law are daily occurrences in that country.
Israeli government ministers respond to mob attacks on black refugees by denouncing them as ‘infiltrators’ and calling for them to be imprisoned in military camps.
Israeli jails house around 4,000 Palestinian political prisoners, more than 300 of them “administrative detainees” held without charge or trial. One of these is a footballer from Gaza, Mahmoud Sarsak, aged 25. He has been imprisoned for nearly three years. No charge, no trial. In desperation, he has been on hunger strike for more than 80 days and is now close to death. He, and all victims of abuse by the Israeli state, need our support.
It is time to end Israel’s impunity and to insist on the same standards of equality, justice and respect for international law that we demand of other states.’
Éric Cantona, actor and former footballer
Noam Chomsky, Professor MIT, USA
John Dugard, Former Special Rapporteur of UN on Palestine, South Africa
Trevor Griffiths, Writer, UK
Paul Laverty, Screenwriter, UK
Ken Loach, Filmmaker, UK
Michael Mansfield, QC, UK
Miriam Margolyes OBE, Actor, UK
John Pilger, Journalist, author, film maker, Australia
Show Racism the Red Card (
Ahdaf Soueif, Writer, UK
2. Statement from the international federation of professional footballers
3. VIDEO: Mahmoud Sarsak’s mother speaks about her son, his imprisonment and his hunger strike
5.  Background information from human rights groups about Palestinian political prisoners
6. Israel’s interior minister Eli Yishai denounces black victims of mob violence as “infiltrators” and says refugees should be imprisoned, “all of them without exception.”
7. Racist football fans on the rampage attack Palestinians in a shopping mall,
8. UK and other European governments boycott games in Ukraine because of human rights concerns.
9. Appeal from Sarsak’s father and brother, May 24