A few days ago our dear friend Eyad el Serraj said goodbye to all of us. Today life in Gaza is a little darker, having lost a prodigious and brilliant mind, a tireless fighter and an unavoidable political figure in Palestine. Brave and unwavering, he never failed to tell the truth, regardless of whom it could hurt; he was always skeptical of international intentions with the successive peace plans and very critical of divisions amongst Palestinians. His life was busy until the very end, refusing to give in to self-compassion or to death, always looking towards the future. Several months ago his friend Raji Sourani told us that his condition was irreversible, as irreversible as his dedication and tireless commitment to life. Eyad was always willing to devote time to all those in Gaza who tried to find an explanation in the midst of so many disasters: the occupation, broken relations, deaths, assassinations, the trauma of women and children in the midst of so much violence. But Eyad, always optimistic, vital and brave, used the torrent of his voice to continue denouncing the injustices which spread over Gaza like a thick blanket, and fearlessly pointed his finger to those he thought were responsible for having abandoned Palestine. Critical of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, he knew that time played against Palestinians, although he refused to consider how much it played against him: he simply refused to give in.
Eyad was born in Bir al Saba (presently the Israeli city of Beersheva) and had to seek refuge with his family in Gaza. In the course of his life he suffered the oppression of Israeli occupation and the suffering in Palestinian prisons because of his ethical positions, and later became a pioneer in the field of mental health (a subject which is taboo in a society as traditional as that of Gaza). He created an independent centre for mental health, through which he promoted respect for mental health issues amongst Palestinians and fought against mental traumas, in particular in children.
In an interview a few years ago, Eyad told us that “It is very easy for people to take sides. It is much more difficult not to do so, because you have to trust your own independent thinking. For many people it is easy to say “I am with Hamas and that’s it”; “I hate Jews”… that’s easy. But not hating Jews, not hating Fatah, not hating Hamas, trying to talk to everyone and to work with everyone, not dividing the world into whites and black: that’s much more difficult. Many intellectuals in Palestine have taken sides or are silent. But we need voices, intelligence, good judgment and they have to come out in the open immediately.”
For many years he fought against cancer and in order to continue with his treatment, which was impossible to do in Gaza, the Israeli army made him wait for hours at the border and go through the scanners at the check point, even though they knew he had cancer, and that the scanners would make his situation worse. I saw him a few times in Eretz, waiting to go in or come out, sometimes alone, but even in the worse moments he ignored his illness, kindly coming up to say hello: he always said “come to see us and we’ll talk”. Because whenever he learned that someone was visiting Gaza, he insisted on receiving them at his home with traditional Palestinian hospitality. Obsessed with the need to maintain Palestinian identity, dignity and humanity, he fearlessly confronted all the situations he came across in his lifetime, in particular the occupation, when his body was already weak from illness.
And in the end, cancer won the battle. But not the occupation, not the Israelis, not injustice. Wherever he may be, he will continue to fight for his people, and in any case, his life will continue to inspire future generations of Palestinians. Our most sincere condolences and thoughts for his family, his friends, the people of Palestine, with all our respect and affection. Farewell, Eyad el Serraj.
Cristina Ruiz Cortina
Al-Quds Malaga Association, Spain