Eyad Sarraj: Doctor who warned the United Nations about the toll on mental health caused by political oppression

 

Ibrahim Barzak
Tuesday 24 December 2013 01:00
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Sarraj in 2012, during a meeting with youth activists in Gaza City
Sarraj in 2012, during a meeting with youth activists in Gaza City

Eyad Sarraj was a Palestinian human rights campaigner who dealt with the mental health damage caused by political oppression and challenged both Israeli and Palestinian abuses. Trained in Egypt and Britain, he became the Gaza Strip's first psychiatrist and established a community mental health programme in 1990 which focused on the most vulnerable groups, such as children and victims of torture and other abuses and served as a foundation for his human rights work.

Sarraj spoke extensively about the toll on mental health exacted by Israel's rule over the Palestinians. Israeli occupation, he said, has left the Palestinians "exhausted, tormented and brutalised." He was briefly jailed in the 1980s by Israel, and in the 1990s by the Palestinian Authority. He later served as chairman of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights, taking on the role of ombudsman for ordinary Palestinians.

In recent years, he had worked at reconciling rival Palestinian political camps – the militant Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, and the Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. After Israel's offensive against Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009, Sarraj told United Nations investigators that post-traumatic stress disorders are widespread among Gaza's children.

Sarraj was born in the town of Beersheba in British-ruled Palestine, and fled with his family to Gaza during the 1948 war. He studied medicine in Alexandria, Egypt, and earned a degree in psychiatry in Britain. In recent years, he had suffered from leukaemia.

Eyad Sarraj, physician and campaigner: born Beersheba, Palestine 1944; died 18 December 2013.

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