Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, a renowed and respected Palestinian psychiatrist and human rights defender based in the Gaza Strip, has died at age 70 after a long battle with cancer.
The founder and medical director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP), El-Sarraj died on Tuesday in an Israeli hospital where he was receiving treatment, Husam El-Nounou, head of administration at GCMHP, told Al Jazeera.
El-Nounou said El-Sarraj’s body was being brought back to the Gaza Strip on Wednesday morning, and that his funeral was expected to begin after midday prayer at al-Omari mosque in Gaza City that same day.
“He is considered the father of mental health and the pioneer of mental health in Palestine. Our commitment to Dr. Sarraj is to continue his message and his struggle for respect of human rights,” El-Nounou said.
Born in 1944 in Bir al-Saba’ (now known as Beersheba), El-Sarraj and his family fled to the Gaza Strip amid violence after the creation of Israel in 1948, known to Palestinians as the “Nakba”, or catastrophe.
After receiving degrees from Alexandria University in Egypt and the University of London’s Institute of Psychiatry, El-Sarraj founded the GCMHP in the Gaza Strip in 1990.
He was a staunch critic of both Israel and Palestinian leadership, and was imprisoned by the Palestinian Authority (PA) four times.
In 1998, he won the Martin Ennals award for human rights defenders for his work in Gaza.
El-Sarraj also received the Olof Palme Prize in 2010 for his “self-sacrificing and indefatigable struggle for common sense, reconciliation and peace between Palestine and Israel”.
“I am proud and happy to receive this prize, but I consider that the real heroes are the victims of violence, torture and war… This prize gives me hope and encourages me to continue to fight to defend those whose rights have been abused, and to work for justice and peace,” El-Sarraj said after receiving the award.