Gaza psychiatrist, rights advocate dies at 70
Published Wednesday 18/12/2013 (updated) 19/12/2013 10:17
Palestinian psychiatrist Iyad Sarraj talks on the phone in his office
in Gaza City on January 4, 2011 (AFP/File Mahmoud Hams)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A prominent Palestinian psychiatrist and human rights advocate from the Gaza Strip died Tuesday after battling cancer, official Palestinian Authority news agency Wafa reported.
Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj -- the founder of a Gaza-based mental health organization -- died at the age of 70 in an Israeli hospital.
Al Jazeera reported that El-Sarraj's body would be brought to Gaza on Wednesday, and that his funeral was scheduled to begin after the midday prayer.
Born 1943 in Beersheba, in what was then British-ruled Palestine, his family was uprooted and fled to the Gaza Strip with the founding of Israel in 1948.
El-Sarraj received degrees from universities in Egypt and England, before returning to Gaza and starting the Gaza Community Mental Health Program.
The organization provides mental health services to people in Gaza, particularly those who have suffered psychological damages resulting from human rights violations, according to its website.
El-Sarraj appeared before a UN fact-finding assembly to investigate human rights violations during Operation Cast Lead, Israel's military offensive on Gaza in 2008-2009. A report published by the assembly, known as the Goldstone Report, cites El-Sarraj's findings that over 20 percent of Gazan children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Hamas paid tribute to El-Sarraj in a statement calling him "the great Palestinian rights activist ... dedicated to the service of the Palestinian people, to resistance to the Zionist occupation and to all forms of racism".
The Palestine Liberation Organization praised him as "a great activist who left a deep imprint on the Palestinian struggle."
A critic of Palestinian as well as Israeli governmental policies, El-Sarraj was imprisoned four times by the Palestinian Authority, according to Al Jazeera.
He received numerous awards, including the Olof Palme Prize in 2010 for having "revealed the destructive influence of repression on mental health."
"It is not me but the victims of violence, torture and war who are the real heroes," he told AFP in Gaza at the time.
He was also active in trying to promote rapprochement between Hamas and bitter rivals Fatah, chairing a reconciliation committee seeking to heal the six-year breach between the movements, so far without success.
AFP contributed to this report.