Eyad El Sarraj


Psychiatrist who fought for rights of Palestinians. The Palestinian psychiatrist, Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, pioneered mental health care in Gaza and was internationally recognised human rights advocate. Rising to prominence during the first Palestinian uprising against Israeli military occupation, in Gaza in the late 1980s, Dr. Sarraj focused in particular on the traumatic effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on children. He championed nonviolence and democracy. In recent years he was involved in trying to promote reconciliation between Hamas, that controls Gaza, and Fatah, the mainstream party in the West Bank. Dr. Sarraj was described as 'a meeting point for all Palestinian people.' In 1990 Dr. Sarraj founded the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, an institution that describes its goals as developing the mental well-being of the Palestinian community and working to empower vulnerable groups like children, women and 'victims of organized violence and torture.' He built a team of 40 specialists, many of them with the experience of Israeli prisons' torture and forced collaborations. From 1996 to 1998, Dr. Sarraj was the commissioner general of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens Rights, a watchdog body formed by decree by the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Dr. Sarraj gained international respect, and his Gaza City home was familiar to foreign diplomats, researchers and journalists seeking his opinions. For decades he was in demand as a speaker in Europe and the US, well beyond the medical world. Dr. Sarraj received several honours, including, in 1997, the Physicians for Human Rights award, and, in 1998, the Martin Ennals award for human rights defenders. He was also a key witness to the Goldstone report on Israel's Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09. Eyad Rajab El-Sarraj was born in Beersheba, a city that is now in southern Israel. He moved with his family, as refugees, to Gaza in 1948 after the establishment of Israel. In the 1970s he studied medicine at the University of Alexandria in Egypt and then in Britain, graduating with a master's degree from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College, London. He died of leukaemia.

Compiler: M. Nauman Khan

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