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Eyad El-Sarraj

Psychiatrist and Director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj. The Programme is a non-profit Palestinian, non-governmental organization, formed to help families cope with the aftermath of torture and violence. El-Sarraj is well known in the occupied territories and Israel as Gazas first practicing psychiatrist and for his efforts to foster co-existence between Arabs and Jews. El-Sarraj is also former Commissioner General of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens rights.

32:19

Other segments from the episode on July 30, 2001

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 30, 2001: Interview with Eyad El-Sarraj; Interview with Ruchama Marton.

Transcript

DATE July 30, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj discusses the Gaza Community Mental
Health Programme, and how the latest events have effected the local
people
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

As the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians escalates, we're going to
talk with two psychiatrists about how the conflict is affecting the mental
health of the people on both sides. Both psychiatrists are active in the
peace movement, but they are constantly dealing with the fallout of hatred,
fear and violence. Later we'll hear from Dr. Ruchama Marton in Tel Aviv.

My first guest is Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, the founding director of the Gaza
Community Mental Health Programme. He was the first practicing psychiatrist
in Gaza. He founded the community mental health program in 1990, during the
first intifada, the uprising against the Israeli occupation. He's also the
former commissioner general of the Palestinian Independent Commission for
Citizens' Rights. I asked Dr. Sarraj to describe some of the typical mental
health problems he sees on a daily basis.

Dr. EYAD EL-SARRAJ (Gaza Community Mental Health Programme): A typical case
of today, is a case of a young boy who is around 12 and started bed-wetting
very recently, although he has been, like, dry for the last nine years or so.
And the bed-wetting, today, is due to the acute trauma--being subjected to
some kind of severe blast of the Israeli bombs or terrible scene in TV of
people being shot or killed, blood. Or being harassed here and there, or
through the fear coming from the eyes of his mother or his father, who are
usually terrified, and in a state of panic, unable protect their children.

Children usually ask, `Why don't you have a gun, Father? How are you going to
protect me if the Israelis are going to shoot--if the Israeli soldiers are
going to do something, how are you going to protect me?' So, the father is
usually helpless and the mother is in a state of panic, and then the end
result is a child who is bed-wetting, sometimes unable to concentrate in the
school, sometimes unable to behave well, sometimes violent.

GROSS: So what can you do for the 12-year-old boy who's wetting his bed?

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: Well, you see, we have different ways of, and sometimes we mix
them together, but the basic thing is to make the child understand why it is
happening to him, and to make the family understand why is it happening to a
child, and then how to cope with this. The minute you have the insight, as a
child, into this problem then you actually have 50 percent chance of
improvement. And the other methods we use are behavioral, kind of,
conditioning. And then we also sometimes use medications, but it has to be
all done in the context of the family setting, where really people understand
why this is happening to them and the child should understand why is it
happening to him. Without this, it can go on for a long time.

GROSS: What's another typical problem you're seeing at the Gaza Community
Mental Health Programme?

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: Well, it is a woman who has lost somebody recently, or has one
of her children wounded, or husband is not working and the burden is falling
onto her at home to try and cope with all the difficult necessities, and
suddenly she could not cope anymore. And she start to complain of continuous
headaches, numbing feeling in the skull from her head, burning sensation in
the back of her head. Sometimes suffocation feelings--she feels suffocated,
she needs air, and different other symptoms. And then, she goes to her doctor
and the doctor gives her some medication, some tranquilizers, it doesn't work,
then they refer to us. And then she comes, she doesn't know why she's being
seen by a psychiatrist or a psychologist, but then within a few--perhaps six
sessions, she'll understand why is it happening to her and it is related to
some recent kind of trauma that she was subjected to.

GROSS: What's your diagnosis usually in a case like that?

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: It's a depressive reaction. Most of the people in our part of
the world, when they feel depressed they don't say, `I am depressed;' they
don't have that kind of psychological language, but they have the body
language. And usually depression is expressed in somatic and physical forms,
like headaches and chest pain, and suffocation and then so many other things.

GROSS: How do you describe depression to a person who's depressed, but isn't
familiar with the concept?

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: Well, we don't try to put our language and vocabulary which we
learn in the West for the people, but we try to understand a local expression
of different, you know, illnesses, including depression. And we try to adjust
our own learning and teaching into the culture. And, of course, depression is
depression everywhere in the world, the only difference is the way people
express it. And then we try to introduce some new vocabulary into the
patient's dictionary by suggesting things. But, you know, in many cases it
doesn't work. What works with the people still is the body and how the body
is functioning in the case of depression and how is it improving, if there is
any improvement. The body is important.

GROSS: So what language do you use--you say you need to find a cultural way
of describing depression, where that would be comprehensible in the culture.
So, what are some of the things you'll say to explain it or describe it?

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: Usually it is talk about feelings on the body, different
places in the body, particularly the head and the chest and abdomen. And
then, of course, we move onto in the sessions to describe the different other
feelings--not bodily feelings as such, but thoughts and emotions and so on.
And, of course, all of this unexpressed in the local Arabic colloquial
language that is only understood by an Arab who lives in the area, really, and
sometimes even people who--Arabs who come from other places cannot understand
it. This is very local kind of accent and kind of colloquial language.

GROSS: Have you seen young people in Gaza who you consider to be--would be
suicide bombers, who have gotten to the point where they're ready to sacrifice
their life for the cause that they believe in?

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: See, the people in Palestine, as much as in Israel, our
preoccupied with the political upheaval and with the situation today that has
engulfed the whole area with violence and repercussions, including children,
of course. And from the children's talk and drawings and paintings, and the
way they express themselves, they are largely preoccupied with blood, with
bodies, with ambulances, with fire alarms, with machine guns, with bombs, with
airplanes.

And there is a need for them to feel that they are doing something for the
country. I mean, this is a culture that is, you know, refusing the defeat,
and the way to get a sense of moral victory is like this: If the Israelis are
able to kill, they have the power of the F-16, then we have the power to die.
And that is a very serious message, and sometimes it is transmitted to the
minds of the children, that this, in the cause of God, in the cause of the
land, in the cause of liberation is glorified; you are dying because you're
going to help your country and your people. And some children have this image
of the suicide bomber as a hero who is sacrificing himself for the sake of us.
And it is like a hero; it is like an example. And some of them express this,
and sometimes saying it, of course doesn't mean that they're going to do it;
that's a different story.

GROSS: So you believe in non-violence, but if a young person comes to your
center and they're really angry and they've been angry for years, and they
want to, say, go on a suicide mission, or they want to throw rocks at Israeli
police, what do you tell them about your belief in non-violence?

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: Yeah. Well, I don't impose my beliefs on my clients, of
course. But I always try to allow them to express themselves freely in any
way and manner they think is right, and once they express themselves, we go
into a discussion sometimes. And I suggest questions like, `What happens if
we do this? What do you think if we do that?' and so on. But I never say to
my clients how do I feel, myself, about things, but I only suggest things from
one alternative to the other, it is for people to decide for themselves; not
me. I cannot decide for everyone, of course.

But, am I publicly--I publish in Arab local press and I always urge people
around me, my staff, and my people, and my friends everywhere to think of the
serious consequences of a Palestinian using any form of armed resistance and
violent resistance against the Israelis, because violence will not make us
win.

I believe that violence is--now is, you know, the picture in the West is like
two armies are fighting, there are two violent people now here. It is not, of
course, totally untrue. The true thing is that we live under Israeli military
occupation and people want to have their freedom, but they resist by throwing
rocks or by shooting. And the Israeli reaction to that is massive destruction
of homes and bulldozing groves and killing people, and sending F-16s--massive
reaction to Palestinian attempt to resist violence. So I believe that is
wrong; politically it is wrong; from the human rights point of view it is
wrong to kill anybody. And I believe in the sanctity of life. And the way to
protect life is by protecting the life of others.

GROSS: My guest is Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, founder of the Gaza Community Mental
Health Programme. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj. He's the
founder and director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme and he's a
psychiatrist.

You started the Community Mental Health Programme in Gaza during the first
intifada, in--What?--around 1987, is that right?

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: That's right. In 1990 I started.

GROSS: You started it in 1990.

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: The first intifada was in 19--intifada was in 1988--'87,
sorry. Yeah.

GROSS: OK. What were your reasons for starting it?

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: Well, the reason--at that time I was a practicing
psychiatrist in England, at that time. Although, I did in Gaza, I practiced
for some time. But the reason was exactly because of the intifada and the
number of people I saw at that time--I kept receiving information about
Palestinian children being traumatized. You know, at that time, it was really
an intifada of children and youngsters witnessing beating of the fathers in
the rear and so on. So, I decided while I was in England, that this is the
place I should go to and I should be helpful to my own people and their
message. And when we started then, I was the only psychiatrist for the whole
Gaza Strip. And I felt that I was needed there more than anywhere else in the
world.

GROSS: You said that you're against violence and that you think non-violence
is the solution. You've seen a lot of people trying to deal with their
anger--anger at the Israeli occupation. And their anger is sometimes
expressed through violence, whether that's throwing rocks or becoming a
suicide bomber. How do you deal with your anger?

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: Well, I deal with my anger through understanding myself,
motives, and emotions, and thoughts, and always to have one hour every day, at
least, only for myself to think about, `What did I do today? And what was
wrong? What was right?' I go to the beach of Gaza every morning. I go for a
long walk and then I go for a good swim. I read. I have friends who are very
supportive, some of them are also psychologists and psychiatrists who work
with me, and we have kind of a support to each other, so I deal with my anger.

And sometimes, you know, I advise people to use sport--sport can really take
so much of your own inner violence out in a constructive manner. The other
way is to be constructive in so many ways. I remember one day, in the first
intifada, I was so angry--faced by an arrogant Israeli soldier who tried to
abuse me in the street. I was so angry I went home and then I decided to
sweep the streets in which I was living in. And that helped me so much. To
be constructive is the way out, I think.

GROSS: You want to see people on both sides as human beings and you want
people on both sides to see each other as human beings, instead of just seeing
them as the enemy. You were in prison, I believe, for 17 days in
1996--imprisoned in Gaza by the Palestinian Authority, and this was after
criticizing the Authority in an article in The New York Times, in which you
were quoted.

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: Yeah.

GROSS: What was it like for you to be in prison, and I think you were beaten
by guards there--what was it like to understand the roots of violence, as a
psychiatrist, and yet to be the victim of that violence, wanting to see the
people abusing you as human beings, and yet, you know, here they are abusing
you. So, you must have been going through a lot of very complicated
thoughts...

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: Yeah.

GROSS: ...and feelings. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about what went
through your mind.

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: Well, of course. See, I was subjected to harsh
treatment--beating and then I was taken into an underground solitary cell. It
was suffocating and it effected me so much--that kind of experience. But then
you have to deal with that, and I dealt with that. And I believe that I went
back to normality again, with the help of some of my colleagues, of course.
Now, the thing is, you see, if you allow anger to take over, then you actually
destroy yourself--not only others, but you destroy yourself. So one should
really deal with anger.

And I, actually, at one stage--some people urged me to try and get my revenge
after the people who had beaten me. But I said, `No, I have no individual
vindict against persons. I have no anger left against them. I totally
forgive them.' But, I don't forget the system. And I don't forgive the people
in the system, who order the beating. As they much did order the beating of
others, and torture others that led to even the death of people in detention.
And this is the thing that we have to--this is the constructive way, is to
campaign always for the rule of law, for the respect of human dignity, for the
respect of human rights. I think it helped me when I continued to go into my
work in that way, to be constructive.

GROSS: When you were being beaten, did you say to yourself, `How can I engage
the people who are beating me in a conversation so that they can see my
humanity, and maybe they'll stop'? Or did you think, `That's a pointless
exercise, that's never gonna happen. I won't even bother to try'?

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: Well, I could not try with the people who actually beat me
because they did that in six or seven minutes of beating and then they just
disappeared. But I tried it with other people--the guards, and I tried it
very well with the inmates. You know, I was in that cell, and then I was
moved to another place, which was full with Hamas people, who were, at that
time, jailed by the Palestinian authorities. And I had a fantastic time with
them talking and talking about non-violence, talking about human rights,
talking about psychology and mental health. And they were extremely nice to
me, and they were very, very protective knowing that I was really always
screaming and shouting for the uphold of their human rights, and not to have
them in jail without charges, without cause, without ...(unintelligible).

And since then, actually, I started a training program for police officers and
for security officers and for interrogators. In our Gaza Community Mental
Health Programme, we train scores of these people on issues of human rights
and ethics of torture and people. And we visit them routinely. And we talk
to them. And I must report to you here that since the time of my detention
and my beating, unwarranted, there was so much improvement in the behavior of
the Palestinian Authority, visibly, the human rights.

GROSS: Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj is founder of the Gaza Community Mental Health
Programme. He'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross and
this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

GROSS: Coming up, we continue our conversation with Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj,
director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme. And we talk with
Israeli psychiatrist and peace activist, Dr. Ruchama Marton.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We're talking about mental health in the face of violence in the Middle East.
My guest is Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj. He's a psychiatrist who founded the Gaza
Community Mental Health Programme in 1990 during the first intifada. He's a
peace activist who advocates non-violence.

You have written, `I grew up in an environment that made me hate Jews.'
Elaborate on that.

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: Well, I grew up in an environment in which everybody knew
that we Palestinians became refugees in 1948 when Israel was established by
Jews who came from Europe, and they have made the small army, evicted people,
took the land from us. And the image of a Jew at that time in my head--I'd
never seen a Jew in my life, I was--up to the age of 12 perhaps. The image
was a horrible monster who came from somewhere and took my house in Beer Sheva
and took our land, and we ended up refugees in Gaza. And these people are
murderers and killers. And that was the image that is everywhere. And
Zionism was the worst kind of name you could call anybody; bad name, you know,
Zionist. So that was the atmosphere in which I lived, until I met some of the
Jews for my shocking experience.

GROSS: For your what experience?

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: A shocking for me.

GROSS: Oh, a shocking experience.

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: A shocking revelation...

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: ...to discover that they are actually human beings.

GROSS: Now you've said that when you were 12 and Israel occupied Gaza in
1956, someone named Moshe came to...

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: Yes.

GROSS: ...your door and asked for your father. Who was he?

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: Oh, yes. You read that off the cue. It was a friend of my
father. They apparently grew together in Jaffa, which is now part of Israel.
At that time my father was working in Jaffa and living there. And his
neighbors were a Jewish family, and Moshe was about my father's age. And, of
course, in 1948, at that time my father was working in Beer Sheva. We were,
you know, evicted from there and we came to Gaza and we lived there. But
between '48 and '56 there were no communication because Gaza became under the
control of the Egyptians and Israel was created and there were borders and
that was the enemy. I mean, no more.

In '56, when Israel invaded Egypt, with Britain and France at that time,
Israel occupied Gaza. And then Moshe found a chance, an opportunity, to come
and ask about his friend, Roger(ph), my father, after all these years. `What
has happened to him? Is he still alive?' and `What happened to the family?'
and so on. And this is how it happened. I was, in that day, in the garden
and then this gate was banged and Moshe was there, and it was a fantastic
experience for me. Of course, I was surprised that my father would hug and
kiss a Jew, and then cry with him and so on. But then later I realized what
friendship really means for people. And I'll never forget that.

GROSS: How did your father and Moshe end up being friends in the first place?

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: Well, they were working in Jaffa. They were living in Jaffa.
Moshe is a Palestinian, although he's Jewish, but he lived and was born in
Palestine for generations, and they were living like neighbors. And my
father's family, at that time, were living in Jaffa, and they grew up
together. They were visiting each other and so on, so they became friends.
And they continued to be friends, and I was amazed to see them in their
reunion.

GROSS: As a person who believes in non-violence, do you have a lot of
friends, or even colleagues, who think that you're crazy?

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: Yes. I do. But I have a lot of people, have friends who
have mutual respect and kind of understanding, and I have so many people who
support what I say. But, of course, some people believe that I'm out of line
with the mainstream.

See, the problem is that today, because of the tension and the so much anger
on both sides, I think the place is being hijacked by the extremists. And in
some way or another, they intimidate the moderate, the reasonable, the sane
people into submission, and then not to express themselves freely. I believe
that if we allow extremists on both sides to decide for our future, we are
absolutely wrong. We should do it today. And the way to do it is not
violent. It should be in a way that is peaceful.

That doesn't mean that we surrender our rights. On the contrary.
Non-violence makes us stronger and it will give us our rights. But I believe
that our best ally, our best friend, should be in Israel itself, and the Jewry
of this world. And the way to make them understand, you see, to make my own
Palestinian friends to understand, is saying to them, `Look to what happened
in South Africa. The blacks' movement would not win without the whites
joining them. And let us have a Palestinian peace movement that is joined by
Israelis so we can achieve peace, justice and security for all.'

And some people think I am crazy, but many do believe I am right, but they
cannot say publicly because they are somehow--they want to be, you know--they
don't want to be seen like away from the mainstream and away from the general
emotional reactions of revenge and killing and so on and so on.

GROSS: Well, what are the consequences of being outside of that?

Dr. EL-SARRAJ: Well, I mean, the ultimate thing is that you're going to be
killed, of course. I mean, if--some people have mentioned it to me. Well, I
don't believe so. And even if it does happens, I believe very strongly that
you have to do what you have to do, and you have to be honest to what you
believe in. I'm not going to pretend that I hate Jews in order to satisfy
some Palestinians or Arabs. I'm not going to say that Jews are right and
Israel is right in order to satisfy the Israeli military occupation so I would
not be arrested or harassed or so. No, I will say this, `The Israeli
occupation of Palestine is the root of evil, and the Palestinian violence is
only enlarging this evil.

GROSS: Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj is the founding director of the Gaza Community
Mental Programme. Coming up, we talk with Dr. Ruchama Marton, a psychiatrist
and human rights activist in Israel. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Dr. Ruchama Marton discusses the effect of Middle East
violence on the mental health of Israelis
TERRY GROSS, host:

Dr. Ruchama Marton is a psychiatrist with a private practice in Tel Aviv.
Like Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, who we just heard from, she's a peace activist. In
fact, they recently did a speaking tour together in Canada. In 1988, during
the Palestinian intifada, Dr. Marton founded the Association of Israeli and
Palestinian Physicians for Human Rights. She's now acting president of the
association's successor, Physicians for Human Rights Israel. In the past
three years she's had fellowships at Harvard, the University of Chicago and
Radcliffe College. She says that the state of Israeli security is often
manifested in the mental health of her patients. As an example, she told me
about a woman who recently came to her office four or five times.

Dr. RUCHAMA MARTON (President, Physicians for Human Rights Israel): She's a
mother of two daughters and been--in the neighborhood there is a building
built up, and the workers are Israeli-Palestinian and she came very upset and
in a state of an anxiety, telling me that she started to be very worried about
those workers. I asked her, `What happened?' She said, `You know, here
October--the last October, I was not worried at all, but now everything has
changed.' To my question, `What's really changed?' she couldn't answer. She
said, `You know, this is politics, it's not me.' It took a long time to
elaborate what she's really worrying about. And she sees now, as many, many
Israelis, the Palestinians as a collective enemy. No matter if they're
Israeli-Palestinians, if they are those workers, or Palestinians from the
occupied territories, or elsewhere.

GROSS: There's been several suicide bombings...

Dr. MARTON: Yes.

GROSS: ...in Israel. Can you feel the impact that that is having
psychologically on people who are your patients or on people that you know as
friends, or people you meet in the street?

Dr. MARTON: Most of the Israelis use to think that they--the state of Israel
and the army, are powerful, forceful and they can beat the Palestinians.
This, if I may say it in such simple words--this is the main feeling toward
the Palestinians. They are not equal and they can be defeated easily. When
those suicide bombers came into the Israeli cities, people were not prepared
psychologically to deal with it. The concept of, `We are so mighty and they
are so weak,' broke in a moment. And people are not prepared to deal with the
new situation, that leaves them without a kind of protection--a psychological
protection from the army and from the government. So, this gives place to a
lot of anxiety, a lot of fear, a lot of hatred to the Palestinians. And they
demand to beat them harder, to activate the army in the most forceful way one
can think. Just from a psychological point of view, to go back to the feeling
that the idea of the Israeli army is really mighty and can knock down the
Palestinian.

GROSS: Most of your patients are women...

Dr. MARTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...do the women who you see ever talk with you about their concerns
about how to deal with their children's anxiety about Israeli security, their
children's fears that they will be attacked by Palestinians.

Dr. MARTON: Yes, it's not very often, but it happens. One mother told me,
for example, `I lost my place among my children as the protector. They see
now that they have to protect me, to encourage me, to support me, because I am
so frightened, I don't give them the permit to go to the mall, to go to the
beach, even not to go to the cinema--to the movies. And they are trying to
comfort me, to tell me the situation is not so severe, it's not so grave,
don't worry, and so on.' And this set a kind of upside down of the normal,
whatever it is, situation between this mother and her three children. So her
question is what to do about it, which is a very hard one.

GROSS: What advice do you give?

Dr. MARTON: It's a long way to do. Because there is no simple
question--answer to this question. I'm trying to see what is so frightening,
and usually I'm finding that what's so frightening is the unpredictable
situation, because she cannot know--of course she cannot know, where will be
the next bomb. And I cannot help her with that. But also she cannot know why
those bombs are happening, that's all. And once she can see that there is a
kind of continuation to one violence, which breeds or brings to another
violence, it makes a kind of relief. Not a total one, because still the
normal fear of being killed or my loved one will be killed is very powerful.
And there is no answer to that. But to the anxiety around it, that is if
there is no logic, no reason, to this Palestinian violence, that can be
elaborated and worked through and give a kind of relief.

GROSS: How often do you find yourself discussing politics with your patients?

Dr. MARTON: Well, for me, you know, politics is almost everything. So, it's
kind of the differentiation between what our government is doing or what the
Palestinians are doing and what happens in everyday life, or in the very inner
life, is not very clear. So, I cannot deal with this question in a way,
because everything is coming and going from politics.

GROSS: I have another question about your patients.

Dr. MARTON: Yes.

GROSS: I would assume some of the patients who you see are the children of
Holocaust survivors.

Dr. MARTON: Yes. Second or third generation.

GROSS: And I'm wondering if there's a certain group of problems that you see
particularly among the children or the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors
who now feel that they're living in an embattled society in Israel; who now
feel that their under potential attack.

Dr. MARTON: One kind of reaction would be, `I am going to try my best to
eliminate wrongdoing. This is the lesson I have learned from history, from my
parents' history, or my grandparents' history.' This is not the frequent. I
can see more, really the opposite, or the other kind of reaction. The people
are thinking that only power, only force, will solve the Israeli problems;
that if you will not kill, you will be killed. Once you start to be weak, not
to protect yourself, not to be suspicious, you will be exterminated, like it
was in the Second World War. And those people are becoming very militant.

GROSS: Dr. Ruchama Marton is my guest. She's a psychiatrist in Tel Aviv.
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Dr. Ruchama Marton, a psychiatrist in Tel Aviv, and
founder of Israeli and Palestinian Physicians for Human Rights.

You are a human rights activist and a peace activist in Israel. You have
worked with Palestinian doctors and with Israeli doctors.

Dr. MARTON: Yes.

GROSS: But I think it's probably fair to say that you're in a minority within
your profession in terms of your political activism and your political point
of view. Do many of your colleagues think that you're wrong and that you're
behaving inappropriately by bringing your politics into your private practice?

Dr. MARTON: Yes. I must say that what you said is very exact, though
proportionally, the Physicians for Human Rights in Israel--one of the biggest
organizations in the West--in the West world, but still we are outsiders, a
small minority. And our influence exists, but I wish that it was much, much
bigger.

GROSS: What are some of the criticisms that you get?

Dr. MARTON: I can tell you an example, like, four months ago--it was in May
this year. I was in Gaza and the Israeli radio--their national one, which is
a good one--called me and asked me what do I see and so on. And I told them
that, to my understanding, the settlers--I mean, those people who are living
in settlements in the occupied territories, Gaza or the West Bank, are
irresponsible parents, because they're endangering their children mentally and
physically, and I would recommend to take those children back to the borders
of Israel, to the green line, what we call. And it is a kind of preventive
medicine for them, and it is much better to prevent harm than to try to cure
it after it happens. The moment I came home my answering machine was flooded
with all kinds of threats like, `We will kill you. We will ruin your career,'
and all kinds of awful, sexist words and sentences.

GROSS: Who were the people making these threats?

Dr. MARTON: Most of them, except one, because I can tell who is calling me,
were people from the settlements, from the occupied territories; except one,
all of them were men. Only one woman was there. She was also from the
settlement.

GROSS: Have you had to deal with any of the uncertainty and anxiety and fear
that your patents have had to deal with because of the escalation and
hostilities between Palestinians and Israelis? Do you feel that you have more
fear, anxiety to cope with as a result of that?

Dr. MARTON: Matter of fact, no. First of all, I really trust my
colleagues--Palestinian colleagues in the occupied territories. And then I'm
going very often to the West Bank, less so to Gaza Strip, because it's
impossible now by the Israelis. I cannot get there. But when we--I never go
alone, it's always that we are going like a group. When we are going there, I
wish you could see the way people are welcoming us, the way we are treated so
warmly. There is all kinds of policemen and security Palestinian people, so I
cannot tell you exactly what kind are usually going with us, just to give us
the kind of good feeling of safetyness. And though, I don't feel those fears,
I can tell you that my children staying at home--they are really uncomfortable
with me going there in situations like this. So they're trying to stop me,
you know, by, you know, talking about--usually I don't give in. And I'm going
there.

GROSS: Is there a difference between the way you feel you are treated by
Palestinians when you go to the West Bank as Dr. Ruchama Marton, the founder
of Physicians for Human Rights, and when you're just walking down the street
in Israel or in the West Bank, And you pass Palestinians who know that you are
Israeli and that you're Jewish? Do you feel more hostility there when they
don't know your personal history--when they don't know the work you've done,
when you're just another Israeli, another Jewish Israeli?

Dr. MARTON: Well, this thing does not happen to me. I'm not going to the
occupied territories, means the West Bank or Gaza Strip, for pleasure or for
shopping or for anything. When I'm going there, I'm going to do work. I wish
I will go to the Palestinian state when it will be as a tourist, as a citizen.
but as long as I have to go there protected by the Israeli army, I don't wish
to go there. And the other part of your question, if I'm walking in Tel Aviv
street and I see a Palestinian, well, one cannot see a Palestinian in Tel
Aviv. First of all, they are not there. And then if one is coming, as a
suicidal bomb, he is disguised or trying to disguise himself so very well that
I cannot recognize him. So on everyday basis this question does not exist for
me.

GROSS: Dr. Ruchama Marton is a psychiatrist in Tel Aviv. She's founder of
Israeli and Palestinian Physicians for Human Rights and acting president of
the group's successor, Physicians for Human Rights Israel.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross. We'll close with a recording featuring tenor
saxophonist Harold Land. He died Friday, at the age of 73. He first made his
mark in the mid-'50s playing with trumpeter Clifford Brown and drummer Max
Roach. Here they are together in 1954 playing Brown's "Joy Spring."

(Soundbite of song)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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