Mark Steel: Three years in jail – that's some red card for Mahmoud Sarsak

I guess the Palestinians were trying that old terrorist trick of becoming a national football team

Share
Related Topics

The footballer of the week, setting up the most unlikely victory, is Mahmoud Sarsak, who plays for Palestine. Because three years ago, he was travelling to the West Bank to join his team when he was arrested by the Israelis and put in jail. If the match he was supposed to be playing in was on television, the coverage would have started with Ray Winstone's spinning head saying, "Odds coming up now", and a caption, "Never seen again – 6-4".

For three years he stayed in jail, though he was never charged and no one was told why he was detained, until this week when the Israelis announced he was part of "Islamic Jihad". So one possibility is this was organised to help the manager explain his selection process. Roy Hodgson would find it so much easier if he could answer questions about why he didn't pick Rio Ferdinand by saying, "because he's in the armed wing of the People's Brigade for Freedom in Chechnya, and that can create discord in the dressing room".

But Mahmoud's treatment followed a pattern. Since the Palestine team were recognised by football's official bodies in 1998, they've faced many similar problems. In 2006, they were top of their World Cup qualifying group when the entire team was refused a visa for their match with Uzbekistan. I suppose this must be because the whole team was in Islamic Jihad, and they were employing that old terrorist trick of becoming the national football team, then qualifying for the World Cup finals from where it's a simple step to start an insurrection.

This problem of the players not being allowed to go to games created tactical difficulties, with the manager forced to experiment with a 0-0-0 formation that never quite came off (though I think they did draw with Scotland using this system). It also suggested the Palestinian team was a reflection of the Palestinian state, a body in name only with few of the powers a normal state holds, and that can be prevented from operating at all whenever the Israelis choose to do so.

It wouldn't have been surprising if analysis of their games went, "Palestine didn't once get into the final third of the opposition's half, and if we show you this bit of play you'll see why. There's a 50ft high wall built around the 18-yard box with a two-hour wait before being allowed to pass through the checkpoint, and the forwards just couldn't penetrate that sort of defence."

After three years in jail, Mahmoud Sarsak went on a hunger strike, and his case was supported by the international footballers union, and by Eric Cantona, and by the world football body Fifa. So on Monday, the Israelis agreed to release him, creating jubilation across his country. When he comes out, we'll know he's a footballer, as he'll say "Obviously, it's a great result for the lads but there's a long way to go and we've just got to take it one abhorrent incarceration at a time."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia  

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Oliver Poole
Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup