LONDON – French football icon Eric Cantona has joined a storm of international outcry over the detention of Palestinian footballers in Israeli jails, calling for ending Israel’s impunity over its human rights violations.
"It is time to end Israel's impunity and to insist on the same standards of equality, justice and respect for international law that we demand of other states," Cantona said in a letter to Michel Platini, President of the European football association (UEFA) cited by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Palestinian footballer Mahmud Sarsak has been held in Israeli jails since 2009 without charges.
He was arrested in 2009 after setting out from Israel-besieged Gaza Strip to join a football team in the occupied West Bank.
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Sarsak has been on a hunger strike for the 80th day in protest at his detention without charges.
Israeli officials have called Sarsak an "Islamic Jihad terrorist” who planned attacks and bombings".
However, Israeli authorities have not made public any charges or evidence against the Palestinian footballer.
Cantona, a former Manchester United forward, called for subjecting Israel to the same scrutiny faced by Euro 2012 hosts.
"We are all shocked at the racist chanting at football matches in Poland and Ukraine where Euro 2012 is being played. Footballing bodies and politicians have been outspoken in their condemnation," Cantona wrote in the letter.
"So why are these same groups silent when Israel is to host the UEFA Under-21s competition in 2013?”
Israel is set to host the 2013 UEFA’s European Under-21 Football Championship next year.
The letter was signed by a host of international figures, including writer Noam Chomsky, film director Ken Loach and John Dugard, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine.
Earlier, the football’s governing body FIFA has called for the release of Palestinian footballers from Israeli jails.
"In a letter to the Israel Football Association, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter expressed today grave concern and worry about the alleged illegal detention of Palestine football players," a FIFA statement said.
Israel holds more than 300 Palestinians under administrative detention orders, which allow it to hold a suspect without charge for renewable six-month periods.
Each detention order is renewable indefinitely, and based on secret evidence that the individual and his lawyer are often unable to see.
"We are deeply concerned about the situation of our footballers," Jibril Al-Rajoub, President of the Palestinian Football Association, wrote in the letter to Platini.
"We ask your excellency not to give Israel the honor of hosting the next UEFA U21 Championship in 2013," he wrote."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.”