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El Sarraj, Eyad (1944–) - PERSONAL HISTORY, BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS, PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:, INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS, THE WORLD’S PERSPECTIVE, LEGACY, DON’T FORGET ME

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Eyad Rajab El Sarraj (also Iyad al-Sarraj) is an internationally recognized Palestinian psychiatrist, researcher, and human rights advocate.

PERSONAL HISTORY

El Sarraj was born in Beersheba, mandatory Palestine, on 27 April 1944, to a family of Palestinian Arab Muslims. His family arrived in the Gaza Strip in 1948 as refugees during the 1948 War, and, like most of the over seven hundred thousand other such refugees, were never allowed to return to their homes by the Israeli government. He grew up and attended school in Gaza, which was controlled by Egypt after the war. In 1963 he left to study medicine at Alexandria University in Egypt, and eventually received his M.B. and B.Ch. degrees in 1971. Thereafter, he returned to Gaza, which had been occupied by Israel in 1967. He worked in 1971 and 1972 in pediatrics at Shifa Hospital in Gaza, and in psychiatry at Bethlehem Mental Hospital in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

After four years of study at the University of London’s Institute of Psychiatry, El Sarraj received his D.P.M. degree in 1977. He returned to Gaza and worked with the Department of Health under Israeli military authorities from 1977 to 1981 before becoming director of Mental Health Services from 1981 to 1988. He returned to Britain on two occasions in the 1980s for further study, including a research fellowship at Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Programme in 1989–1990. Back in Gaza, he founded the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme in April 1990 and remains its general director today.

Cognizant of the link between oppression, violence, and hopelessness and mental illness from his years living under Israeli military occupation, El Sarraj also became a human rights campaigner. The Israeli government once imprisoned him for refusing to pay taxes to its occupation authorities. After Israel ceded control of most of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1994, El Sarraj served as commissioner general of the new Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights from 1995 to 1999. However, his outspoken criticism of the new Palestinian government landed him in prison in December 1995, May 1996, and June 1996. His May 1996 imprisonment, which included torture, lasted for seventeen days, despite international outcries and demands for his release. PA leader YASIR ARAFAT ordered him arrested again in early 2001 for publicly criticizing his government, but El Sarraj managed to hide until such time as Arafat was convinced to rescind his order. El Sarraj also continued to decry oppressive Israeli policies and actions in Gaza and the West Bank.

El Sarraj has been a member of a number of medical, psychological, and human rights organizations, both at home and on the international level. These have included the Arab Medical Association (in the PA), the American Psychiatric Association, the World Federation of Mental Health, the Campaign against Torture in the Middle East, the Palestine Center against Violence, the International Federation for Health and Human Rights, and the International Federation of Physicians for Human Rights.

El Sarraj also has been involved in politics. He was a member of the Palestinian National Council, and served as an adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team at the Camp David II talks in the United States in July 2000. He also unsuccessfully ran for election on the Wa’ad List (also known as the National Coalition for Justice and Democracy) in the January 2006 elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council.

BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS

Name: Eyad Rajab El Sarraj (Iyad al-Sarraj)

Birth: 1944, Beersheba, mandatory Palestine

Family: Wife; two sons, Sayf and Wasim

Nationality: Palestinian (dual British citizenship)

Education: M.B., B.Ch., Alexandria University (Egypt), 1971; D.P.M., Institute of Psychiatry, University of London, 1977

PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:

  • 1963: Begins medical studies, Alexandria University
  • 1971: Practices pediatrics, Shifa Hospital, Gaza, and psychiatry, Bethlehem Mental Hospital, West Bank
  • 1974: Begins psychiatric studies, Institute of Psychiatry, University of London
  • 1977: Begins work with Department of Health, Gaza
  • 1981: Director of Mental Health Services, Department of Health, Gaza
  • 1989: Begins nine months as research fellow, Refugee Studies Programme, Oxford University
  • 1991: Cofounds Gaza Community Mental Health Programme
  • 1995: Commissioner general, Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights
  • 1997: Awarded Physicians for Human Rights Award
  • 1998: Awarded Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders
  • 2000: Adviser to Palestinian negotiating team, Camp David II talks
  • 2006: Unsuccessfully runs for election to Palestinian Legislative Council

INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS

Growing up as a Palestinian refugee in Gaza, and continuing to live and work among the refugee community, has given El Sarraj a unique perspective into mental health and human rights, as well as the link between them. His work documenting the effects of war and violence upon children is well known, particularly how impact trauma or the witnessing of trauma affects a child’s later development and proclivities toward rage and violence. His scholarly articles have been published in prestigious journals around the world. El Sarraj’s work on Palestinian suicide bombings also goes beyond the sensationalistic and simplistic views about Islam and Palestinians often propagated in the West, and locates the phenomenon of such attacks within the culture of violence that war and occupation have created for Palestinian youth in recent decades.

He also has campaigned for human rights, nonviolence, and accountable government. In this way, El Sarraj has contributed vitally to the development of a vibrant civil society among Palestinians, both under occupation and under the authority of the PA.

THE WORLD’S PERSPECTIVE

El Sarraj is an internationally known mental health practitioner and researcher, as well as a champion for human rights, democracy, and nonviolent conflict resolution. He also is viewed as a man of integrity, equally vocal in his denunciation of Israeli and Palestinian human rights abuses and outrages. He twice has been awarded prestigious international awards for his human rights work, earning the Physicians for Human Rights Award in 1997 and the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 1998. Fluent in English, El Sarraj is a frequent commentator in the Western press, and also frequently appears in documentary films on subjects such as suicide bombings.

LEGACY

Eyad El Sarraj’s ultimate legacy will measured through the lives he has helped heal through his mental health work, his scholarly contributions through research conducted under adverse circumstances of war and occupation, his efforts toward building an empowered Palestinian civil society, and his unwavering commitment to human rights and nonviolence in a region torn by war.

DON’T FORGET ME

Receiving this award reminded me of one of the persons I left behind in prison. He said to me: “Don’t forget me … please … don’t forget me.” In the detention centers which I have to visit in my capacity as the Commissioner General for Human Rights in Palestine (a position which also put me in detention), in every prison, in every detention center I visit in Israel or Palestine, I always call out, with these haunting memories of the sounds of people bleeding: “don’t forget me.”

REMARKS AT THE MARTIN ENNALS AWARD FOR HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS, CEREMONY, NOVEMBER 1998.

Let me tell you first that the people who are committing the suicide bombings in this intifada (2000–) are the children of the first intifada (1987–1991)—people who witnessed so much trauma as children. So as they grew up, their own identity merged with the national identity of humiliation and defeat, and they avenge that defeat at both the personal and national levels…. During the first intifada, studies showed that 55 percent of the children had witnessed their fathers being humiliated or beaten by Israeli soldiers. The psychological impact of this is stunning. The father, normally the authority figure, comes to be seen as somebody who is helpless, who can’t even protect himself—let alone his children. So children have become more militant, more violent. People are the products of their environment. Children who have seen so much inhumanity—basically the Israeli occupation policies—inevitably come out with inhuman responses. That’s really how to understand the suicide bombings.

Elbaradei, Mohamed (1942–) - PERSONAL HISTORY, INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS, BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS, PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY: [next] [back] El Saher, Kazem (1961–) - PERSONAL HISTORY, INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS, BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS, PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:, THE WORLD’S PERSPECTIVE, LEGACY

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