To most of the outside world, the ongoing, constantly heated rivalry between Israel and Palestine is something that is increasingly difficult to understand. For individuals living within the confines of this small, dry strip of Middle Eastern land, however, it’s just how life goes. You learn to celebrate your victories and revel in hope rather than dwelling on the negatives. And this is exactly how Mahmoud al-Sarsak is choosing to carry his situation after being released from an Israeli prison after three years.
A talented, prized member of the Palestinian National Soccer Team, al-Sarsak was accused in 2009 of being an active member in an Islamic Jihadist group. When Mahmoud, a promising young soccer talent, left Gaza to play the sport he loved in the West Bank, many warned him of the dangers, but no one close to the young athlete could have foresaw what would happen immediately upon his departure.
Mahmoud was detained after attempting to cross the border. Israeli officials leveled charges against al-Sarsak, claiming he was a member of Islamic Jihad, but Mahmoud steadfastly denied the charges and they subsequently never stuck. Nevertheless, al-Sarsak was thrown in jail, along with many other prisoners only facing accusations and not real charges, and life in that region continued to play out as it has been for many, many years.
For three years, dealing with conditions most people could never even begin to imagine, al-Sarsak spent his days and nights detained in prison, thought to be a terrorist rather than a simple soccer player. But things started to change as prisoners within the Israeli detainment camp began to exercise hunger strikes. Mahmoud participated in an alternating pattern of strikes for four months, protesting his imprisonment, and with so many prisoners also participating in the strikes, Israel had no choice but to release al-Sarsak and other prisoners.
Beyond the field of soccer, al-Sarsak’s actions inside of the prison have helped to bring about change. Israel has now struck a deal whereby the solitary confinement program will end, family visitation will be allowed, and other improvements will be made as long as prisoners stop striking.
For his courage while imprisoned, the changes he helped to usher through, and for his contribution to Palestinian soccer that was never forgotten, al-Sarsak received a triumphant homecoming.
Only 25, Mahmoud should have a long and impressive career ahead of him. His jersey sales will undoubtedly shoot through the roof going forward, and anyone who wants to buy his memorabilia should take advantage of one of these coupons from soccer.com.
More than any fame or fortune, however, al-Sarsak is just happy to be home with his loved ones and free of the chains which bound him for so long.