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Psychiatrist In Gaza: Coping With War

GUY RAZ, host:

Now to Gaza City which has been under a sustained Israeli attack for six days now. Eyad Sarajj is a Palestinian psychiatrist and human rights activist in Gaza, and he joins us on the line. Dr. Sarajj, welcome to the program.

Dr. EYAD SARAJJ (Palestinian Psychiatrist and Human Rights Activist): Thank you.

RAZ: Where are you at the moment?

Dr. SARAJJ: I am in my house in Gaza City.

RAZ: Can you describe what the streets of Gaza City look like at the moment? Are people outside?

Dr. SARAJJ: Well, since Saturday morning, Gaza has been under a severe military attack by the Israeli air force. It also was hit by the Israeli navy and the land...

(Soundbite of child talking)

RAZ: Is that one of your children that we're hearing?

Dr. SARAJJ: Yes, sorry, it is.

RAZ: How are you able to protect your family right now?

Dr. SARAJJ: Well, I have to be with them all the time and try to reassure them by our presence, their mother and myself, and to explain things in a way that does not make them more anxious or disturbed.

RAZ: You're a psychiatrist, of course, Dr. Sarajj.

Dr. SARAJJ: Yeah.

RAZ: How do you explain, as you say, explain things to the children? What do you do and what do you say?

Dr. SARAJJ: First of all, they should understand what is going on in a simple kind of terms. It's only natural and normal to be afraid, so they should accept that. And second, we should explain why, what is happening. We are being, you know, attacked. This is a kind of war. And these are - they're far away, but when they send bombs that makes a loud sound, and this sound is disturbing. But we are safe. It's far away from us, so it's not going to hurt us.

And in the practice, of course, of things, whenever something happens, I hold the little one particularly to my chest and give him a sense of security, and my wife would hold the other one also. That is very important, the physical feeling of security and warmth around the children.

RAZ: Earlier we spoke to an Israeli who is living in Ashkelon. Are there air raid sirens in Gaza? In other words, do you have any warning before the attacks begin?

Dr. SARAJJ: No. There is no warning whatsoever. This is why it is more difficult for us. The first attack was on Saturday morning when we were discussing what we were going to eat for lunch, and suddenly there was a series of bombs and explosives around us. It was very disturbing indeed, and we were in a state of panic.

RAZ: Many Palestinians have been critical of Hamas over the past year. But I wonder whether the people that you know in Gaza who might not, you know, ordinarily support Hamas, are they now rallying around Hamas in this time of crisis?

Dr. SARAJJ: When you see the Palestinians' story, it's a story of victimization. And this is why when there is an outside enemy like Israel attacking now, all the Gazans, they aren't attacking Hamas as they claim. They're attacking Gaza and Gazan people. So we come together and - although some people are critical of Hamas. But at this time, this criticism is muted for the sake of sending our country as a whole.

RAZ: You yourself have been very critical of the missile strikes from Gaza into Israel, the missiles that had been launched out of Gaza into Israel. Do you believe that ultimately the Israeli attacks on Gaza will stop the rocket fire coming out of Gaza into Israel?

Dr. SARAJJ: Well, I am a strong believer of the nonviolent resistance, and I'm a strong believer in human rights. And for me, any people killed, any child killed anywhere is like killing all humanity, I mean. So in principle, I'm against violent resistance against the Israelis. But in the same time, I want the Israelis to understand using brutal force can only encourage more military and more extremist attitude.

RAZ: Well, Dr. Sarajj, thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. SARAJJ: Thank you very much indeed for having me.

RAZ: That was Eyad Sarajj. He's a Palestinian psychiatrist and human rights activist in Gaza. He joined us on the line from Gaza City. We also spoke with Sigal Ariely. She lives in Ashkelon in southern Israel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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