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Elderly refugee to join Gaza march

Dec. 14, 2009 8:41 A.M. (Updated: Dec. 15, 2009 9:31 A.M.)
Bethelehm - Ma'an - Palestinian refugee Yusif Barakat will return to Palestine with 1,000 international delegates of the Gaza Freedom March set for 31 December, the event's organizers said on Monday.

Yusif Barakat, 74, was born in Haifa, Palestine under the British Mandate. Barakat’s family was compelled to leave their home when Jewish immigrants were settled in Palestine after World War II.

In August 1947, as a 12-year-old shepherd boy, he landed at Ellis Island in the US with his family, not speaking a word of English. Four years later, his father died, leaving Barakat to take care of his mother and three sisters.

"He has been taking care of the needy ever since," the statement said. Now a retired psychotherapist, Barakat has devoted himself to working with the juvenile justice system, helping the youth develop trust and relationships through his treatment and rehabilitation program.

He also has deep emotional ties to his native Palestine and is deeply saddened that the US government is facilitating the suffering of Palestinians, the march's organizers wrote.

“I am appalled at the billions of US tax dollars that have gone to the Israeli government, which continues a 60-year-long occupation of Palestinian homelands. And when I saw all the death and destruction from the invasion of Gaza, I knew I had to do something. That’s why I’m joining the Gaza Freedom March.”

Departing for Egypt, Barakat and 1,000 other international activists will caravan into Gaza to witness the still remaining devastation of last year's attacks and on 31 December, will join local Palestinians in a nonviolent march from northern Gaza to the Erez border crossing into Israel. On the Israeli side of the Erez border Palestinians and Israelis will also call on the Israeli government to open the border.

Following Hamas' takeover in 2007, Israel closed off the Erez border crossing to the majority of Palestinians living in Gaza, which was used by Palestinians to enter Israel for work, study and medical treatment. Now only a handful of Palestinians with the required permits are allowed to transit via this crossing.

The statement added that other participants include Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, leading Syrian comedian Duraid Lahham, South African anti-apartheid leader Ronnie Kasrils, French Senator Alima Boumediene–Thiery, author and Filipino Parliament member Walden Bello, former European Parliamentarian Luisa Morgantini from Italy, President of the US Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Michael Ratner, Japanese former Ambassador to Lebanon Naoto Amaki, French hip-hop artists Ministere des Affaires Populaires, among many others.

Families of three generations, doctors, lawyers, diplomats, 70 students, an interfaith group that includes rabbis, priests and imams, a women's delegation, a Jewish contingent, a veterans group and Palestinians born overseas who have never seen their families in Gaza will also join the march.

It is expected that 50,000 Palestinians will also participate in the event, spanning all segments of society and work, including NGOs, professors and students, and women's rights groups.

The march, set to take place in Gaza on 31 December, is described by the organizers as "an historic initiative to break the siege that has imprisoned the 1.5 million Palestinians who live there. Conceived in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and nonviolent resistance to injustice worldwide, the march will gather people from all over the world to demand that the Israeli government open the borders."

In addition to the march, many events will take place, including performances by Palestinian rappers, hip-hop bands and Dabkeh dancers.
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