Israel Releases Hunger-Striking Palestinian Soccer Player

Held Three Years as 'Unlawful Combatant' Despite Never Engaging in Combat

The Palestinian national soccer team may soon have a new midfielder to compete for a spot on their roster, as long-time detainee Mahmoud Sarsak, a former player for their youth national team, has finally been released by the Israeli government.

Sarsak was one of many Palestinians engaging in a hunger strike this year, and has been doing so off and on for several months. His health is said to be poor but improving, and he has been expelled to the Gaza Strip.

Sarsak was captured in July 2009 when he left the Gaza Strip and traveled to the West Bank to compete in a soccer game and has been held as an “unlawful combatant” by the Israeli government ever since, despite the fact that he has never even been accused of engaging in combat.

Instead, Israeli officials say that Sarsak was a member of Islamic Jihad, and that he posed an existential threat to Israel. Sarsak denied membership, and no evidence was ever presented to that effect. He was the only person being held under the “unlawful combatant” law, which is analogous to the oft-used detention without charges law for West Bank Palestinians, but covers people who aren’t West Bank residents.

Soccer players the world over have been pushing for Sarsak’s release for years now, and the Palestinian Football Association has pushed for FIFA to intervene, saying the detention of a soccer player without charges violates FIFA rules and could disqualify Israel from international play.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of