KEIR RADNEDGE in POZNAN

– Michel Platini has been urged to strip Israel of the right to host next year’s UEFA’s under-21 championship because of the security authorities’ ongoing detention without trial of Palestinian footballers.

One of them, Palestinian international Mahmoud Sarsak, has been on a three-month hunger strike in protest at being held without charge or trial. Recent legal and medical visitors have described his condition as ‘critical.’

Political players: Platini in the centre of it all - along with Rajoub (top left with Blatter; lower right with Rogge)

This is fourth political storm this year to erupt around the European federation and its president who, for all his public insistence on not mixing politics and football, is becoming a lightning rod for diplomatic controversy.

First Platini found himself enmeshed in the political complexities surrounding Turkey’s Euro and Olympic hosting ambitions; then he was overruled by FIFA and its president Sepp Blatter over his opposition to assisting football development in Kosovo; next he landed in the middle of the Tymoshenko issue tearing at Euro 2012 co-host Ukraine.

Now the intractable Middle East impossibility has landed on Platini’s hotel doormat as he enjoys the thrilling football thrown up daily by the European Championship finals in Poland and Ukraine.

Israel’s scheduled hosting of the European junior finals has been raised by Jibril Rajoub who is president of both Palestine’s Football Association and National Olympic Committee.

The context is the Middle East saga in general and attempts, in particular, by world football federation FIFA and the International Olympic Committee to persuade the Israeli security authorities to ease restrictions on the movement of Palestinian athletes both between Gaza and the West Bank and for international competition.

Sarsak is the most high-profile case but not the only one, as Jibril relates in a formal letter to Platini. After fulminating at what he describes as “yet another Israeli transgression against Palestinian players” and a “direct violation of FIFA regulations and the International Olympic charter”

Jibril says: “We ask Your Excellency to not give Israel the honour to host the next UEFA Under-21 Championship 2013.”

Israel was originally a member of the Asian confederation until being kicked out on nakedly political grounds. It was then directly affiliated to FIFA because the Soviet Union and its satellites would not countenance – also on political reasons – its membership of UEFA.

The Communist collapse opened the door for Israel to become a member of UEFA and its national team and clubs compete in all the European competitions. As such Israel has as much right as any other UEFA member to aspire to host its tournaments.

Israeli sport currently has its own recognition concerns. It wants the IOC to include a minute’s silence in the Opening Ceremony at London 2012 to mark the 40th anniversary of the deaths of Israeli athletes and coaches in the Munich Games terrorist tragedy of 1972.

Thus far, and despite some political support from the United States and Australia, the IOC has refused. Rogge has insisted that the anniversary will be marked in some other way.

Full text of the PFA letter of Michel Platini:

Dear President, Dear Brother

It saddens me again to write to you to report yet another Israeli transgression against Palestinian players which adds another injury to a series that never seems to end. The latest happened to national team player Mahmoud Kamel Mohammad Sarsak who has been imprisoned by the Israeli government for three years without any trial or charge.

The player Mahmoud, who lives in Rafah in the Gaza Strip, was arrested on 22 July 2009 at a checkpoint when he was on his way to the West Bank to join his new Mirkaz Bakata club. He was interrogated for 30 days and then imprisoned without any trial or a precise legal charge. Family and friends are denied the right to visit him. And they don’t know why he is being detained for already nearly three years.

Israeli occupation authorities term him as “an illegal combatant”?! A term unheard-of justify an equally illegal indefinite imprisonment.

To protest against his condition and lack of civil liberties Sarsak started a hunger strike. The 25-year-old footballer has not eaten for 89 days and has lost approximately 30kg of his weight. According to human rights organisation Addameeer the situation of Mahmoud is critical.

But Sarsak is not the only player detained in this manner: the goalkeeper of the Olympic team, Omar Khaled Abu Itweis, 23 years old, was abducted by an undercover Israeli military force from his work in the Palestinian Red Crescent without charges and is still in detention since the beginning of February 2012.

Also, player Mohammad Saadi Ibrahim Nimner, 22 years old, who plays for Al-Amaari professional club, was arrested by Israeli occupation forces in the end of February 2012 and is still detained without charges or trial.

So we are deeply concerned about the sitation of our footballers. Sarsak, as you can see, is not the only player who is suffering from the illegal transgressions of the Israeli occupation. 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.

What is happening in reality is the Israeli government continuation of a direct violation of FIFA regulations and the International Olympic charter.

As well we ask Your Excellency to not give Israel the honour to host the next UEFA Under-21 Championship 2013. And also to ensure the commitment of Israeli government to FIFA regulations and international Olympic charter which relates to the Palestinian players and athletes.

I avail myself of the opportunity to renew to you the assurance of my highest consideration.

– General Jibril Rajoub President, Palestine Football Association

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