[Opinion] A Palestinian Doctor's Difficult Legacy
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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.
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 towards Jews and promotion of BDS, Israel provided him with state-of-the-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.