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Farewell to Eyad Al-Sarraj, the Gaza Psychiatrist and Human Rights Activist

By Victoria Brittain and Mazin Qumsiyeh

Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, December 23, 2013


Eyad Al-Sarraj (1944-2013)


Eyad Sarraj obituary

Victoria Brittain

The Guardian, Thursday 19 December 2013 13.50 EST

Eyad Sarraj established a community mental health programme in Gaza. Photograph: Sean Smith

My friend and mentor Eyad Sarraj, who has died aged 69 after suffering from multiple myeloma, was not only Gaza's first and most distinguished psychiatrist, but also a tireless chronicler of pain and resilience in that tiny, crowded territory under occupation and Israeli firepower.

Eyad was born in Palestine under the British mandate, in Bir al-Saba, which became Beersheva after the establishment of Israel. He arrived with his family in Gaza as refugees in 1948. His father and brother were arrested and imprisoned when Israel occupied the Gaza Strip in 1967. Eyad left to study and graduated from Alexandria University in Egypt and the Institute of Psychiatry in London.

Returning to Gaza, he lived through the violence of the Israeli military against the youthful defiance of the first intifada in 1988, which left a new generation traumatised. He became Palestine's pioneer in the field of mental health research and treatment, and was responsible for cutting through society's attitudes of stigma and denial to produce effective interventions.

In 1990, he founded the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme and built a team of 40 specialists, many of them with the experience of Israeli prisons' torture and forced collaborations. Every suffering family's door was open to the GCMHP, which became a key part of Gaza's ability to function against all the odds.

The work of the GCMHP was supported by specialist agencies around the world that recognised the centrality of Eyad's insights into Gaza's battered and pressured society, not only for Palestine but also in other societies in long-term violent crisis. The triple focus of the work was on the special needs of Gaza's children, women and male victims of violence and torture in Israel's prisons.

A prolific writer on the human cost of the occupation of Palestine, for decades Eyad was in demand as a powerful speaker in Europe and the US, well beyond the medical world where he first made his reputation.

Eyad was brave enough to speak out against the torture and violations of human rights by the Palestinian Authority. He paid for it in 1995, when he was arrested by the PA and given the very treatment he had spoken out about. Two more arrests and beatings followed. He later treated the men who had beaten him – they were former prisoners in Israeli jails.

Politicians of all kinds both feared his independent mind, and consulted him. For the Palestinian election in 2006, he headed the Wa'ad (National Coalition for Justice and Democracy) list of candidates, though no independent party stood a chance of being as politically influential as Eyad himself often was privately.

He was a father figure in Gaza – foreign delegations always wanted to call on him, friends phoned him from around the world to get Gaza's news, especially when it was bad. The texture of his life was in the assassinations, bombed homes, arrested fathers, attempted suicide bombings, and their consequences of trauma and dysfunction in GCMHP's everyday work. His private strength was buttressed with quiet early-morning walks on the beach, where he was greeted by fishermen and children going to school, and with evening talks with friends in his book-lined home.

From 2002 the occasional sharing of these walks and times with Eyad in Gaza, or in London, always meant new understanding and a renewal of optimism that against all odds Gaza's exceptional people could transform the grimmest of times.

Eyad received many honours including, in 1997, the Physicians for Human Rights award, and, in 1998, the Martin Ennals award for human rights defenders. In 2010, he won the Olof Palme prize for his self-sacrificing struggle for the Palestinian people. He was a key witness to the Goldstone report on Israel's Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09.

He is survived by his wife, Nirmeen, and their son, Ali, and by his sons Wassem and Sayf, from his first marriage, to Alicia.


Mohammed on left, Sarraj and Wife on right

Our colleague and friend, Gaza Psychiatrist, Dr. Eyad Al-Sarraj, died today (12/18/13), at age 70 from cancer. Eyad was a great man of integrity, a refugee from Beer Al-Saba'a (renamed Beer Sheba by Zionists), and one who dedicated his life to help people in Gaza and throughout Palestine. I got the call about his death from a friend soon after I got a call from the father of Mohammed (8 year old child who spent two weeks with us in Bethlehem area for treatment) that they have crossed into Gaza at the "Erez crossing" after a long journey through checkpoints. Here is a recent interview with Dr. Eyad Sarraj about situation of Palestinian children:

On good news, the success of mass demonstrations against the Prawer-Begin plan to ethnically cleanse 40,000 Bedouins of the Naqab (Negev) forced the Israeli government to back down. This should give us pause to think about strategies of liberation (besides endless negotiations).  There are also other successes namely growth of the boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement (see below).  And Palestinians continue to miracles with little resources in their own communities despite incredible odds.  For example, today we had a conference to discuss the future of the Faculty of Science at Bethlehem University and attended by community leaders in and outside the university.  It was an inspiring event held as part of a series of events commemorating 40 years of Bethlehem University and as preparation for a significant expansion of the University. We can indeed challenge occupation and transform challenges into opportunities (freeing our minds before freeing our bodies!).  
Richard Forer, Author, Breakthrough-The Autograph-09-28-2011
In telling the story of how he himself went from being a diehard supporter of Israel, from someone raised in a Reform Jewish household who saw Israel as that plucky little democracy trying to provide a secure home for the long-beleaguered Jews to someone who now supports the Palestinians in their struggle for justice, he provides us with an inside look into the mind of a Zionist -- his own -- and how being confronted with the more grim reality changed his mind and the reality of the Palestinian struggle.

(and another Jew who saw reality) Matthew Cassel examines why so many American Jews defend Israeli policies regardless of the issue or cost.

How the worst video song made exposes Zionist racism and stupidity.  A Jewish settler sings why “Jews can’t stop”: Watch the video and Read the lyrics here (also read some of the comments on the video)
and see comment on the Israeli liberal website 972mag

Another AIPAC loss, win for us

American Studies Association the largest scholarly association dedicated to American Studies voted to endorse a resolution supporting the boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education.

Academics should boycott Israel: Growing movement takes next step

(enjoy) SODASTREAM: Keeping Apartheid in Business

It's been a great week for Israel in the US Congress this week. But not for the American taxpayer. While many Americans are gearing up for the Christmas holidays and trying to earn the money to buy their children presents, and while the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits surged, Congress voted yet more money to Israel.


Open Letter to boycott a cinema studies conference scheduled at Tel Aviv University for next June.  Below is a link to the letter and a means to sign it.  We hope you will add your signatures--and share the links widely with friends.
Click here to read and sign letter:

A Bedouin in Cyberspace, a villager at Home
Beit Sahour, (occupied but soon to be free) Palestine




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