- Published on Monday, 18 June 2012 09:30
Israel's national football team had to endure a barrage of pro-Palestinian chanting throughout their 8-0 defeat by Scotland in the Women's Euro qualifier at Tynecastle on Saturday, in a protest aimed at highlighting the plight of what FIFA president Sepp Blatter termed, Israel's "alleged illegal detention of Palestine football players".
Blatter was particularly concerned about Mahmoud Sarsak, who is currently in critical condition after more than 90 days on hunger strike. The 25 year-old was arrested by Israel three years ago en route to play for his national team, and has been imprisoned without charge or trial ever since. In recent days, FIFA has called on Israel to ensure the "physical integrity of the concerned players as well as their right for due process". An Amnesty report this month said Israel routinely uses "administrative detention" in order "to suppress legitimate and peaceful activities in the Palestinian territories".
Football icon, Eric Cantona, is amongst a range of public figures to have criticised Israel over its jailing of "around 4000 Palestinian political prisoners, more than 300... held without charge or trial." Along with campaign group, Show Racism the Red Card, Cantona told UEFA President Michel Platini that Sarsak, "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."
Around 140 campaigners from groups including Friends of AL-Aqsa Scotland, and the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) waved Palestinian flags and banners calling for Sarsak's release. Chants including, "without guns, you're rubbish" and frequent references to Israel's "racism" and "apartheid" clearly infuriated one of the Israeli officials who came out after the match to salute the seven or eight Israel supporters, and to vent his frustration with the protestors.
After the match, SPSC chair Mick Napier said "most people can be proud to represent their country abroad, but that is certainly not the case for Israel's sporting ambassadors. Mahmoud Sarsak's demands are not contentious outside Israel: detained persons should be charged and tried, or released. Otherwise, Israel will have yet another death on its hands. FIFA is right—the situation is urgent."