Tag Archives: Farmers

Mahmoud Sarsak – Palestinian International Footballer

_MG_0737Mahmoud Sarsak standing amongst the ruins of Palestine Football Stadium in Gaza City, used by the National Team.  This was his first visit there since it was bombed by the Israelis on the 19th November 2012.  It was hit with 12 bombs destroying much of the stadium during Operation Pillar of Cloud.

On Wednesday 23rd of January I with other members of our group had the pleasure and honour to meet Mahmoud Sarsak in our appartment. He is a slight, quietly spoken young man, with a gentle manner and his good humour and patience with our questioning betray none of the pain he has suffered over the last 3 and a half years. When he begins to speak about his experience of imprisonment he tells his story with a matter of fact, quiet sincerity that is striking and makes the horror of his experience all the more shocking.

Mahmoud was 21 years old, at the start of a playing career which had already seen him being recognised as one of the best young prospects in Palestine, already a regular for the Palestinian National side. He had an invitation to play for a football team in Nablus in the West Bank. This meant that he had to ask for permission from the Israelis to cross from Gaza through Erez crossing into Israel in order to travel on to the West Bank. This did not worry him as it was a trip he had already done twice before and when he recieved his permission he went to the crossing looking forward to the opportunity of playing in Nablus. However when he got to Erez at 9am on the 22nd July 2009 his whole world changed, instead of being allowed to cross he was arrested and taken to a Police Station, from here his family were called and informed that he was being taken to Ashkelon Jail.

He was made to take off his clothes and change into overalls, an ‘under investigation uniform’. He describes how for the first 18 days he was tied to a chair with his eyes covered, the only times he was untied was when he was given food and they untied his hands or when he was allowed to go to the toilet when his legs were untied. He explains that during this time he was kept awake, not fed properly and questioned daily, every 4 days he was taken to a court where a judge gave permission for him to be held for a further 4 days. This treatment he says ‘wasn’t so bad’ in comparison with what was to come although I think that most people would call it torture.

At the end of that 18 days he was taken to a Military Jail in the South where he was kept for 6 days and his treatment became much worse. He was beaten regularly and was put in what he described as a fridge, he also had very hot and very cold water put under his feet. During all of this time in both places he was questioned, his interrogators were wanting him to say that he had been involved in ‘activities against Israel’. He didn’t understand what they meant by this, he was a footballer, he had not been involved in anything else and so refused to make things up to make his interrogators happy. He had no idea why he had been arrested.

At the end of these 6 days he was taken back to a civilian jail for another 11 days where suddenly things got much better. He was fed and allowed to sleep properly, his captors became very friendly offering him his freedom, a new house, a salary, a car, access to proper training facilities to help his playing career and foreign travel. All he had to do was become a collaborator. He refused, which angered his Israeli Interrogators and they began to threaten him again. They told him that they would burn his family home down, attack his family and kill his brothers. Despite the pressures upon him and his ordeal so far, he continued to refuse to collaborate.

Except for short visits to court when his lawyer was present, during this initial 35 days of incarceration he had absolutely no contact with anyone but his jailors and interrogators. His lawyer told him that he was going to be all right, the court had said he was going to be released. Instead he was told by a Military Officer that he was now being held under ‘The Law of An Illegal Fighter’ and that they no longer needed to go to court to ask permission to keep him. He was then taken to Kitseot Jail near Bersheva where at least he could see other prisoners and his time of interrogation was over. He asked the other prisoners what this ‘Law of an Illegal Fighter’ meant but none of them had ever heard of it. When he was finally allowed access to his lawyer and was able to ask him he was told that it was a law that the Israeli authorities use when they have nothing against you but they want to hold onto you. He then asked his lawyer what rights he had under this law and was told that he had none, he could now be held in jail for as long as the Israeli Military wanted to keep him.

Mahmoud was the first Palestinian who had been held under this law, the only other people he knows of who had previously been held under it were 2 Hizbollah members from Lebanon who were arrested in 1982. He thinks that because he had no rights he was put in a cell which was 2m x 1m for his time in Kitseot, this cell had only a matress and toilet in it and he developed chest, skin and back problems while there. He was not taken to a hospital while there, and was only seen briefly by a prison doctor for these problems. He was allowed out of his cell for 1 hour a day for exercise with his fellow prisoners when he played football with them.

On the 22nd of February 2010 Mahmoud was taken to Tel Aviv for a court hearing to extend his imprisonment and then to another court hearing for the decision in Jerusalem two weeks later. The journey to court and between jails is in what the prisoners call a ‘post bus’ which is metal bus with steel compartments in which you are jostled and hit off the steel walls. He knew before he was taken to the second hearing that he was going to be held for another six months. After this hearing he was also barred from playing football with his fellow prisoners for that precious hour in the mornings and was told that this was due to his back being too bad. At this time they also started to move him between prisons every 2 months and he was still taken to court every 6 months in order to have his stay in prison extended.

On the 23rd of August 2011 he was told that he was going to be released, he was happy and said goodbye to the other prisoners. He was taken by ‘post bus’ to Erez, his hands and legs were not tied as they usually were, the window was open and when he got there they opened the door of the prison van and the guards moved away talking among themselves. He stayed where he was as he didn’t know what was happening and he didn’t want to be shot if they thought he was trying to escape. He called to the guards to ask what was happening and they told him they were taking him back to jail, he wasn’t being released. He was taken to a different jail for 2 weeks with only the clothes he had on when they took him to Erez. He said that he was later told about another prisoner who had been taken to Erez and left in an open ‘post bus’ with his legs untied in the same way. He had gone to the door to look out and been instantly shot in the leg and accused of trying to escape. After this 2 week period he was taken back to the jail he had originally been in when first imprisoned, here his other clothes and small number of belongings were finally brought to him.

When he was taken to this jail he was given another 6 months but his lawyer was promised that he would be released when this time ended on the 23rd of February 2012. The 23rd of February came and went, 10 days after this he was taken back to court, he had decided that this time if he wasn’t released he would go on hunger strike and stay on hunger strike until they promised in writing that he would be released. So when he was told that he was going to be imprisoned for another 6 months he prepared himself for 10 days, eating less each day and gradually reducing his physical activity. On the 15th of March 2012 he started his hunger strike. He only took water and sometimes a little salt in order to prevent his stomach from beginning to rot.

7 days after he started they began to move him from jail to jail before putting him in Nafha Jail which meant he was put in with the Israeli criminal population. Then he was put into isolation for a spell followed by hospital in Bersheva for 2 days tied to his bed then back to Nafha. From here he was sent to Eshel jail where he was put in isolation again and became very sick. This time they wouldn’t take him to hospital but would only allow him to see the Doctor in Eshel. After 35 days of this the Doctor in Eshel refused to continue to be responsible for him and he was taken to the Prison hospital in Ramle jail where he was with another 5 Palestinian prisoners who were also on hunger strike. He refused treatment here and was put back into isolation, this time his isolation cell had no windows so he was in darkness. After 47 days on hunger strike he bagan to have serious problems with his stomach, he couldn’t even drink water without vomiting. First white then black then brown vomit. They took him back to Ramle Prison hospital then and gave him antibiotics.

Along with the other hunger strikers he was asked regularly to break his hunger strike, on the 15th of May he was told that if he would break his hunger strike he would be released on the 23rd of August and the other hunger strikers were also told that they would have their demands met if they broke theirs. 3 of them accepted but along with 1 of the others Akram Al Rihawy he refused, he had heard promises of release before and he insisted that he have the promise in writing signed by a senior Judge and a Minister from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior. He was also told that he would not be allowed to return to Gaza, he had to choose between Germany, France or Norway which he also refused to accept. At this time he finally began to get International Committee of the Red Cross visits twice a week and he was asked daily to break his hunger strike, he continued to refuse until he got it in writing that he would be released back to Gaza and that he would be properly monitored by a committee of doctors when he started eating again.

Eventually on the 18th of June 2012 on the 96th day of his hunger strike a Minister from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior came to see him with the signed paper that he had been asking for stating in writing that he would be released on the 20th of July 2012. The Minister asked him if he would now please give up his hunger strike and he agreed. The Minister asked him to drink a glass of milk in front of him so that he could confirm and report that he had indeed broken his hunger strike which he did alathough he immediately vomited this back up. His stomach couldn’t cope even with milk after such a long time with no more than water going into it. He said that even though his stomach rejected this cup of milk his whole body felt as though it had drunk and felt relieved.

For 14 days he had to build up to eating again with first intravenous vitamins and nutrition, followed by nutritional drinks, before finally eating his first bit of bread after this 14 day period, which he still vomited back up. During the time of his hunger strike he was only allowed 2 visits from his lawyer, on the 40th day and on the last day. I asked if he was allowed any visits from his family during his time in jail. He replied that because he was given no rights under the ‘Law of An Illegal fighter’ he was not only denied visits from family but was not even allowed the 6 monthly letters delivered to his fellow prisoners by the Red Cross. He wasn’t able to write to them either, not even one short note.

At no time during Mahmoud’s entire incarceration was he actually accused of anything other than being asked to admit to the vague term ‘activities against Israel’ and he was never charged with anything. He was very clear that he had no idea why he was arrested. He was a footballer. The court appearances he attended were simply formalities under Military Law which say that every 6 months any detention order must be renewed.

All Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza who are arrested by Israel are dealt with under Military Law not Israeli Criminal Law and therefore it is not necessary for Israel to ever bring charges against them. Many who are prosecuted are those who have signed false confessions under torture and are not able to retract them afterwards. Mahmoud’s case was slightly worse than normal Military law, under which there are a few rights which at least give some protection in prison. Mahmoud had none of these rights under this so called ‘Law of an Illegal Fighter’ by which he was held.

I asked Mahmoud if he was back in training for football and if he thought that it would be possible for him to return to his playing career. He said that finally he had managed to attend 3 training sessions and was hoping to be able to return to the team at some point in the future once he was back to full fitness. I sincerely wish him luck with this and hope that he will reach that stage very soon.

This has to be one of the clearest examples of why the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) campaign should be supported by everyone and why Israel should be barred from participating in International Sporting events. Currently the 2013 UEFA U-21 Championship is scheduled to be played in Israel. How can this be allowed when they can treat a Palestinian International Player like this? Not to mention that they bombed the only 2 football pitches in Gaza during Operation Pillar of Cloud as well as destroying many local playing areas in the West Bank over the years. I saw several during my visit there in 2004 including one in Ramallah which had been bulldozed.

Mahmoud told us that the other prisoner who had stayed on hunger strike with him, Akram Al Rihawy, had spent his whole sentence in hospital due to his medical problems. His reason for being on hunger strike was not for release but for proper medical treatment. He stopped his hunger strike after being told that he was going to be released on Wednesday the 23rd of January 2013. Yesterday, on the 25th of January 2013 we were told that he was not released as promised and that he is now back on hunger strike.

To join the campaign against Israel hosting the 2013 UEFA U-21 Championship go to the following link and get involved: http://redcardapartheid.weebly.com/

For the Scottish readers of this article, I showed the film Trish from maryhill made of the protest at the Womens international to Mahmoud. His comment was ‘beautiful’ with a wide grin of appreciation and amazement.

By Theresa in Gaza

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A Night in Khoza’a

khoza
Khoza’a is the place where we did some farming accompanyment. It’s very close to the border and most of the farm land is next to or in the buffer zone so it’s been out of reach to the farmers for many years now. Since the cease fire the farmers are supposed to be able to go to 100 m from the fence. We helped them plant the wheat crop during December they managed to get 20-30 dunams planted before the Israelis began to fire on the farmers and they had to stop. Just over a week ago the Israelis spent 3 days with tanks and bulldozers destroying much of what had been done, ploughing up the land again for a distance of 8km along the fence. We went to see the damage early last week. It’s very depressing to see but the farmers are going to try to re plant.

We were asked to go and spend the night there in order to see what it’s like on a normal night. When we arrived we were welcomed first at the offices of one of the smaller political parties in Khan Younis the nearest big town. The Palestinian Popular Struggle Party is around the 6th party in Gaza, it is a party which supports people who are farmers and in unions and is committed to non violent means of resistance by way of continuing to live and work despite pressure to stop by the Israeli’s, ie carry on farming even although the Israeli’s try to intimidate you out of the fields. They gave us tea and cake and thanked us for our help, then some local musicians and dancers arrived and did and impromptu performance for us in a really informal way which was really nice. Everyone was incredibly friendly and it was a really nice welcome.

We then went to the houses of a couple of the PPSP members who were hosting us for the night where we met their families, chatted and had dinner. On cue at around 10pm we heard the Israeli tanks arrive on the other side of the fence and some random gunfire from them. Flares were fired into the air every so often as we carried on blethering and drinking tea, this apparently is normal every day stuff for the people of Khoza’a. One of the strange things about being in Gaza is how quickly you accept as normal that you can sit around having an extremely pleasant evening with tanks and random gunfire as background noise.

The family of one of our hosts has just been swollen in numbers by the arrival of family from Syria who had to flee the fighting there. They had been living in the Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus which was attacked, some got out, others are still inside trying to escape. How hard must that be?

We then slept and when we got up the next day we again heard gunfire from the Israeli’s, we had a look from the roof while we were being fed breakfast, beautiful homemade bread with zater and eggs. There was a tank and some jeeps over the border which were firing into the buffer zone every so often. We were then taken on a tour of the town, visiting a couple of houses where we were given tea and shown round the gardens which were full of a huge range of citrus, apple, pear and olive trees as well as herbs, veg as well as a few chickens. Again our pleasant, relaxed chat was accompanied by random gunfire from the Israeli’s on the other side of the fence.

We then drove for a bit around the fields closest to the town where we were fed randomly from the fields with peas, saber (cactus fruit), citrus etc by our hosts. Amazing the range of crops in this rich farmland. And back to our hosts house for a beautiful meal of fish cooked by Sabrina his wife before going back to the roof to check on the tanks. When we left there was a tank and around 12 jeeps on the other side of the fence, when I checked my film afterwords I noticed that there was also a jeep in the fields very close to the town, all on it’s own, which just radomly appeared heading back towards the fence. Very strange. At no time that day did we see anyone in the fields anywhere close to the buffer zone so the firing form the Israelis appeared to have no purpose except to try to intimidate. The number of Israeli vehicals was ridiculous and again didn’t seem to have any purpose in being there other than intimidation.

In spite of the Israeli Military activity we had such a relaxing and enjoyable time there, Khoza’a is such a beautiful place. I would love to see it without the fence and constant Israeli activity. The town suffered a horrific attack during Cast Lead when many people were killed and many of the houses were bulldozed. They are under constant pressure from the Israelis because it is so close to the border, the edge of the town is around 1 – 1.5 km, from the fence and yet the people there are so friendly and open. Many of the farmers actually hold papers proving their leagal ownership of land for several miles on the other side of the fence which is now part of Israel and farmed by Israelis. They are re building many homes at the moment and making them so beautiful. The people there are not only farmers but many of them are also highly qualified, for instance the farmer who coordinates much of our work there is also a qualified micro biologist. They are just wanting to live their lives like people anywhere else, peacefully and with dignity. They certainly manage dignity and generosity with friendly openness. I will take home with me very good memories of Khoza’a and I hope so much that the town will be left in peace by the Israelis although I fear very much that they will have to continue to endure continuing harassment.

I have to wonder why the Cease Fire doesn’t stop this type of intimidation. I must be very stupid but I thought that Cease Fire meant stop firing. Whenever we have been anywhere near the border we have seen the Israeli’s shooting through the fence.

Still I came away from Khoza’a feeling like I had had a fantastic relaxing time.

By Theresa in Gaza

 

 

Mustafa Abd Al Hakeem Abu Jarad

Some of you may have read my earlier report on Mustafah’s death, it was written immediately after speaking to his family while they were still at Shifa Hospital hoping for a miracle after his surgery. Later we were told the full story of what happened by his friends who were with him and I have corrected the information in this account.

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Today 20 year old Mustafa Abd Al Hakeem Abu Jarad, was hunting birds with a small group of his friends North of Beit Lahia in the North of the Gaza Strip. He made the fatal mistake of thinking that as he was 1km from the border and, he thought, out of sight of it he would be safe to take his air rifle instead of using a small net as is more normal in Gaza. He was shot through the head by a single sniper shot fired from or near the Israeli watchtower on the border. He survived for long enough to be taken to Al Shifa hospital where he was operated on but there was no chance that he would survive, the bullet had entered through his forehead and exited through the back of his head causing severe brain injury.

We spoke to his family as they waited for news at the ICU and they told us that as the family did not have their own farm Mustafa worked as a farm labourer while he finished his schooling. They thought that he was working on a farm that day with his friends as he usually was when he was shot. He had been around 1 km away from the border fence when Israeli soldiers had started to fire towards them.

His friends who were with him and were still in a state of shock about what had happened, corrected us later and told us that they had been hunting birds. They also told us that there had been one heavy, sustained burst of gunfire and when it finished and they stood up they discovered that Mustafa was still on the ground with a severe head wound, shot through the center of his forehead with a huge exit wound at the back of his head. They did confirm that they were 1km from the border and that they thought they were out of sight of the border watch tower and would therefore be safe.

Mustafa was taken straight to Kamal Adwan Hospital from where he was transferred to Shifa Hospital when they realized the seriousness of his injury. At Shifa he was operated on in order to stop the bleeding and remove bone fragments from what was left of his brain but the doctors already knew that his injuries were to severe and that he was unlikely to survive for long. He died at around 7.30 this evening. We were taken into the ICU to see him and speak to the doctor who had treated him so can confirm his injury.

2 and a half months ago Mustafa’s older brother Loay was also killed, he was in his late twenties. Loay was in the resistance when he was killed but Mustafa was not involved in any way with the resistance, this everyone was adamant about, he wanted to finish his schooling and go on to study more. He was simply out with his friends taking advantage of a day when there was no farm work to be done to indulge in some bird hunting not anywhere close to the border fence.

By Theresa in Gaza

Photo courtesy of http://desde-palestina.blogspot.co.uk/