Remembering Eyad El-Sarraj: His Struggle For HumanRights, Justice And Peace Continues
10 December 2013
By Stephen Lendman
Sarraj founded and headed Gaza's Community Mental
Health Program (GCMHP). He called its mission:
"Healing the Spirit. Instilling Hope."
He said "(i)f you're not enjoying human rights, then
you're definitely not enjoying sound mental health."
Friends and associates called him indefatigable. After
Israel's 1967 occupation, his father and brother were
arrested. They were brutally tortured and abused.
In the mid-1990s, he became Palestinian Independent
Commission for Citizens' Rights Commissioner General.
He took full advantage.
He denounced Israeli and complicit Palestinian
Authority human rights abuses. Three times PA
authorities arrested him. They imprisoned him.
He was isolated, beaten and tortured. He was punished
for defending right over wrong. He refused to remain
He was outspoken to the end.
Defending Palestinian human rights became his "major
obsession." They're victims of Israeli state terror.
They endure daily humiliations. They're denied
fundamental rights. They're unjustifiably arrested,
imprisoned, and tortured.
Their homes are maliciously destroyed. Their land is
stolen. They're ethnically cleansed to make way for
exclusive Jewish development.
They're murdered in cold blood. They lost loved ones.
They're longstanding victims of Israeli injustice.
Sarraj wanted Palestinian suffering ended. He served
their mental health needs. He helped traumatized
children and torture victims.
On December 17, he succumbed. He lost his long
struggle with multiple myeloma (plasma cells cancer).
He was 69.
He was a renown and respected psychiatrist. He
pioneered mental health in Palestine. He was an
important human rights defender.
During the First Intifada (1987 - 1993), he was
appalled at how Israelis treated Palestinians. He did
what he could to help.
He ignored imposed curfews. He paid no attention to
other military orders. He went where he was needed. He
made no attempt to avoid patrolling Israeli forces.
He defied occupation harshness. He managed best he
could. He did so because it mattered.
He felt the same way throughout his professional
career. He was determined to make a difference. He
proved everyone can in some way.
He established refugee camp clinics. He developed
training and crisis intervention programs. He began
various other initiatives.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) called
him a "great national struggler."
"He dedicated his life to defending human rights and
democracy, supporting the civil society and pioneering
mental health in Palestine."
"His illness did not prevent him from performing his
patriot duty and persistent work to heal the
"He successfully represented the Palestinian cause on
international levels and became an example of a
successful psychiatrist and a politically creative
PCHR remembered "his honest national efforts to defend
the right of Palestinians to live in freedom and
Thousands who got to know him understood. He gained
international prominence. He did so by focusing on the
devastating effects occupation harshness has on
In January 2009, he headlined a New York Times op-ed
"A 14-year old's question: Why?"
He discussed "a lovely girl of 14, a talented writer
in English and Arabic..." He name is Noor. She's "my
stepdaughter," said Sarraj.
She asked tough questions. She looked forward to
higher education in America. She was unsure it could
During Cast Lead, "Israeli fighter bombers flattened
Her friend Christine was killed. So were many others,
said Sarraj. Israel considers children fair game like
It calls civilians justifiable military targets. Noor
asked "why Israel would destroy her school. She asked
why Palestinians don't have air defenses," and why
Americans aren't fair.
Sarraj said good ones aren't in power. Noor asked why
Arabs are impotent? Why don't Russia and China help?
She's "not alone in her pain," said Sarraj. "Many
children in Gaza are wetting their beds, unable to
sleep, clinging to their mothers."
Worst of all are severe longterm traumatic
consequences, Sarraj explained. "Israel will
eventually stop the war and we may be saved, but who
will save Israel from itself," he asked?
On December 30, 2008, Israel bombed GCMHP's
headquarters. It was heavily damaged. It was rebuilt.
It resumed operating.
GCMHP's Nancy Murray remembered Sarraj, saying:
For him, "human rights and mental health work went
hand in hand." He was Gaza's first practicing
psychiatrist. He began treating Palestinians in 1977.
"His courage, decency, independence of mind, and
vision of a better world made him a beacon of moral
conscience and hope for those Israelis seeking peace
with Palestinians, and Palestinians struggling with
both the occupation and their own ruinous political
He "leaves behind a bereaved Palestine, a grieving
family, and friends around the world who will miss him
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh called him "a meeting
point for all Palestinian people. (H)e was born and
lived for them."
UN special Middle East peace process coordinator
Robert Serry called him "someone who persistently
stood on the side of human rights, peace and justice."
Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza director Issam
Younis said he reflected "gentlemanly antagonism."
Failure to reconcile Palestinian differences "left his
He explained what it's like living under occupation
harshness, saying. "Among other things, it means:
• an identity number and permit to live as a resident
which will be lost if one leaves the country for more
than three months;
• a traveling document which specifies that the holder
is of an undefined nationality;
• being called twice a year by intelligence for
routine investigation and persuasion to work as an
informer on 'your brothers and sisters,'
• leaving your home in the refugee camp in Gaza at 3
am, going through road-blocks and checkpoints to do
the work that others won't, and returning home in the
evening to collapse in bed for a few hours before
getting up for the following day;
• losing respect from one's own children when they see
their father spat at and beaten before their own eyes;
• seeing the (name of the) Prophet being spat on by
Israeli settlers in Hebron.
We were exhausted, tormented and brutalized."
Sarraj gained international respect and recognition.
His awards include:
• the Physicians for Human Rights Award;
• the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders;
• the Olof Palme Prize for his "self-sacrificing and
indefatigable struggle for common sense,
reconciliation and peace between Palestine and
• the Juan Jose Lopez-Ibor Prize in Psychiatry.
He was born in Beir-al-Saba. Israel changed its name
to Beersheva. He was four years old when his family
was forced to flee.
It was during Israel's so-called War of Independence.
Palestinians were viciously targeted. Mass slaughter
and ethnic cleansing followed.
Unspeakable crimes of war and against humanity were
committed. They never stopped. They continue today.
World leaders able to make a difference turn a blind
eye. Israel gets away with murder and much more.
Sarraj struggled to change things. He's an inspiration
for others to continue his work.
He grew up in Gaza. At the time, Egypt controlled it.
He studied medicine in Egypt. He continued at London's
Institute of Psychiatry. He spent his entire
professional life doing what he loved best.
He worked tirelessly for peace, human rights, justice,
and victims of Israel's occupation. He did it because
In 1990, he founded GCMHP. Its administrator Husam El-Nounou
"Our commitment to Dr. Sarraj is to continue his
message and his struggle for respect for human
He's survived by his second wife, Nirmeen, their son
Ali aged 7, and sons from his first marriage.
In 2010, he was "proud and happy to receive" the Olof
Palme Prize, he said. Palestine's "real heroes are the
victims of violence, torture and war," he explained.
"This prize gives me hope and encourages me to
continue to fight to defend those rights have been
abused, and to work for justice and peace."
He devoted his life to achieving them. He's gone to
his just reward. He leaves a huge void to fill.
Hopefully others are up to the challenge. His struggle
for human rights, justice and peace continues.
Stephen Lendman lives in
Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled "Banker Occupation: Waging
Financial War on Humanity." http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanII.html
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. Listen
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