A Palestinian doctor’s difficult legacy

Despite Sarraj’s political warfare on Israel, offensive statements toward Jews and promotion of BDS, Israel provided him with state-ofthe- art medical care when he became ill, like it has for thousands of other Gazans/

Hospital bed (photo credit: Wikicommons)
Hospital bed
(photo credit: Wikicommons)
Last week, Dr. Eyad el-Sarraj, a Palestinian psychiatrist and founder of the NGO known as the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP), passed away after a month of treatment in an Israeli hospital.
In his professional work, including with GCMHP, Sarraj devoted himself to mental health in Gaza and to the Palestinian political cause. Upon his death, he was hailed as a “leading Palestinian human rights campaigner” and a “psychiatrist who pioneered mental health care in Gaza.”
However, Sarraj also left a more problematic legacy. For years, he exploited his professional credentials and reputation as a psychiatrist and the head of a human rights organization for the purpose of conducting political warfare against Israel. As part of the medical community, Sarraj failed in his obligation to protest the unceasing Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis. If he was really concerned about human rights and the impact of violence on mental health, the children of Sderot should have been an important part of his agenda.
That this central element of his activism was ignored by the media encapsulates the “halo effect” that is granted to individuals and organizations that claim to represent moral and universal human rights values.
As shown in a new report by Jerusalem-based research organization NGO Monitor, “NGO Malpractice,” NGOs and NGO officials that proclaim a mandate related to medical and health issues, in particular, are shielded from scrutiny. As groups with a medical focus, they benefit from an added degree of credibility, reflecting a perception of altruism and scientific expertise. For example, on the second day of the fighting in the December 2008-January 2009 Gaza conflict, GCMHP issued a press statement referring to an Israeli air strike as “part of the vicious military attacks.” A week later, in an op-ed, “A 14-year-old’s question – Why?” Sarraj asked, “who will save Israel from itself?” He blamed Israel entirely for harming Gaza civilians and condemned Israeli self-defense measures, while denying the intent of terror groups strategically operating from civilian areas in Gaza.
Further, in June 2009, Sarraj and another GCMHP staffer appeared before the biased, and later discredited Goldstone Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict. Sarraj’s testimony presented a stereotype that was entirely without scientific or medical foundation: “...
there is no restraint, no discipline within the army... even there’s an encouragement.”
His testimony then went a step further: “...
inside Israel there is an identification with the aggressor, the Nazi.” These comments harken to a 2003 interview with Tikkun Magazine, where Sarraj offensively asked, “Are they evil by nature, these Jews? Or are they stupid, born mentally subnormal? ...They are psycho- pathologically disturbed....” In addition to these inflammatory statements, Sarraj and GCMHP were strong promoters of anti-Israel BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) campaigns, completely unrelated to the mental health of Gazans. For instance, GCMHP signed the “Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS” in 2005, which calls for the imposition of “broad boycotts and divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.”
Moreover, following the armed struggle with activists on the 2010 Flotilla, but before a definitive picture of the incident materialized, GCMHP signed a joint NGO statement claiming that “Israel [is] accountable for the murder of foreign civilians at sea and illegal piracy of civilian vessels carrying humanitarian aid for Gaza” and calling “on you to join the growing international boycott, divestment and sanction campaign of a country proving again to be so violent and yet so unchallenged.”
In its own press release, GCMHP falsely accused Israel of “savagely attack[ing] the Gaza Freedom Flotilla,” a “heinous crime,” and “an act of piracy and a serious violation of international law and human rights.”
Clearly, there is an urgent need to restore the moral framework when discussing these issues.
Instead of promoting medical assistance on the basis of universality and political neutrality, medical NGOs and their representatives have become central players in the political conflict. Exploiting medicine and science for political purposes undermines the integrity of what should be highly valued, noble professions, and respectable institutions.
Despite Sarraj’s political warfare on Israel, offensive statements toward Jews and promotion of BDS, Israel provided him with state-ofthe- art medical care when he became ill, like it has for thousands of other Gazans. Unlike Sarraj and the NGO network, Israel understands that medicine and science cannot and should not be politicized.
The author is a 2013-2014 Research Fellow at NGO Monitor in Jerusalem, Israel. She holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Melbourne, and has also worked and studied in areas of conventional and alternative medicine, as well as education, in various jurisdictions.