LONDON - A decision by the European football association to grant Israel the right to host a youth championship is prompting calls for boycotting the international event over Israeli human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian lands.
"How did UEFA [Union of European Football Associations] give this to Israel?" Mahmoud Sarsak, a talented striker who had once been called up to the Palestinian national team squad, told CNN."Why did they think it was acceptable despite knowing the violations of human rights the Israeli state conduct on a daily basis?"
Islam and World Football Stars
Sarsak, who was held for three years in Israeli jails without charges, has arrived in London for campaigning against UEFA's decision to grant Israel the right to host the under-21 football championship.
Testing Israeli brutality at first hand, the 23-year-old football player was still recovering after losing half of his body weight in a three-month hunger strike after being held without charge in administrative detention by Israeli authorities for three years.
Sarsak's suffering started in 2009 when he was offered a professional contract with a team in the occupied West Bank.
At his arrival at the Erez Crossing, that dream turned sour.
"A woman soldier and officer said I should go for an investigation. I wasn't worried as lots of people were being investigated," he recalled.
"I was surprised when my hands and legs were chained immediately. No-one else was. I thought, 'OK, something is happening.'
They took me with my chained arms and legs down into what felt like a big bunker underground. When I got there and took the glasses off I was sitting on a chair in front of an interrogator.
"I was harassed, brutalized, hit on the head with the guns they were using. They took me off into an army center where they called my brother and told him I was in prison. I spent 45 days there. I saw death many times throughout that period."
During the three-year imprisonment, the Palestinian player was physically and psychologically tortured.
"This (hunger strike) was the only way left to achieve my liberation," he said.
"The Israelis killed my hope, killed my dreams, killed everything. It was either to live in dignity or be buried underground."
Sarsak laments that hosting the EUFA championship was a prize for Israel's human rights violations in the Palestinian lands.
"Michel Platini [UEFA president] came to Palestine and saw the real situation. He said that he will carry the Palestinian cause and would advocate against the oppression of the Palestinian people," he said.
"He has completely changed his mind. He has given Israel a present on a platter of gold by giving them the honor of hosting the tournament."
His efforts were not the first to this end.
For much of the past year, campaign groups and famous names in football, including former Mali international Frederic Kanoute, have called for a boycott of the U21 tournament due to Israel's treatment of Palestinians.
A petition was raised by the pro-Palestinian campaign group Red Card Israeli Racism, attracting more than 8,000 signatures.
An open letter was also sent to British newspaper The Guardian in May, signed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu as well as a raft of other politicians and celebrities.
"UEFA is rewarding Israel's cruel and lawless behavior by granting it the honor of hosting the European Under-21 finals next month," the letter read.
"UEFA should not allow Israel to use a prestigious football occasion to whitewash its racist denial of Palestinian rights and its illegal occupation of Palestinian land."
Leading protests and speaking in public meetings about his experience in the Israeli prisons, Sarsak wanted to show the world a face they usually ignore about Israel.
One year after his release, the football player is still haunted by the memories inside Israeli prisons.
Despite the time he has lost and the mental scars he still endures, he hopes to play football again."I still want to pursue my dream, because the Israeli intention was to destroy my dream and stop me playing football.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net