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Hors d’oevres and trophies for the militant, starvation and death for the peaceful civilian athlete

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Thu, Jun 14, 2012

Palestine/Israel

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By Mosab Qashoo

In a cruel twist of irony, Israeli President Shimon Peres was honored
Wednesday night with the “Presidential Medal of Freedom” at a lavish
White House feast while Mahmoud Sarsak, rising Palestinian soccer
star, nears death by starvation. Sarsak is now on his 87th day of
hunger strike to demand the basic human freedoms denied him by Peres’
government. To add insult to injury, Shimon Peres used this
opportunity to present Obama with a petition to free an Israeli spy,
Jonathan Pollard, who was caught leaking Pentagon secrets.

Peres is a man of extensive military and even insurgent background,
who adopted religious views more extreme than the rest of his
community. Peres has been quoted as saying that, as a child in Poland,
he smashed his parents’ radio because they were listening during
Sabbath. He joined the Haganah at a young age, an armed Jewish militia
responsible for massacres, mass displacement and other human rights
abuses. After the establishment of the state of Israel, Peres was in
charge of the government’s weapons dealing.  He was a fierce advocate
of settlement activity, especially in his early career. He has been
Minister of state, defense, communication, transportation and
immigrant absorption, Prime Minister and is currently President. In
his political career he has overseen massacres, wars, occupation,
discrimination, human rights abuses, the breaking of political
treaties and spearheaded Israel’s nuclear proliferation. His
government currently detains Mahmoud Sarsak and over 500 other
Palestinian political prisoners without charge or trial, against
international human rights law.

According to his family, Mahmoud Sarsak had never cared about politics
and spent all his waking moments thinking about and playing soccer.
The Sarsaks are refugees from the city of Ashdod (approximately 20
miles south of Tel Aviv) but Mahmoud grew up in a refugee camp in
southern Gaza. As a very young child, he excelled at playing soccer
and by eleven he was already representing Palestine in the Youth
Olympic Games in Tehran. He played on several teams including the Gaza
Youth Sports Club and Rafah Sports Club. Due to the limited resources
in the southern Gaza Strip, Sarsak moved to the north to play
professionally. Soon outgrowing the Gazan league, Sarsak was selected
to join one of the leading West Bank clubs. In 2009, he received the
permits that Israel requires to go from one Palestinian territory to
another and headed off to the West Bank to realize his dreams. Without
any warning or explanation, Sarsak was arrested en route by the
Israeli military. From his 2009 arrest until today, his peak athletic
years have been wasted in Israeli jails. His detention under the vague
“Unlawful Combatant” law has been continually renewed without charge,
trial or even allegation. Now he has spent almost three months in
non-violent protest against the injustices leveled against him. Even
if he survives his hunger strike, he will face many health issues that
will prevent him from being a professional or possibly even
recreational athlete.

Hors d’oevres and trophies for the militant, starvation and death for
the peaceful civilian athlete. What kind of message are we in America
trying to send to the world by giving freedom medals to the violent,
and depriving the non-violent of their freedom?

Mosab Qashoo
New York

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