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Palestinian Refugee Yusif Barakat Returns to Palestine with 1,000 International Delegates

Gaza Freedom March

18 December 2009

Gaza Freedom March to Palestine Border Set for December 31

The Gaza Freedom March, to take place in Gaza on December 31, is 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.

One of the participating marchers is 74-year-old Yusif Barakat, who was born in Haifa, Palestine. Barakat’s family left their home when Jewish immigrants were settled in Palestine after World War II. In August 1947, this 12-year-old shepherd boy landed at Ellis Island 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 every since. Now a retired psychotherapist, Barakat has devoted himself to working with boys in the juvenile justice system, helping them 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 U.S. government is facilitating the suffering of Palestinians. “I am appalled at the billions of U.S. 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 December 31, joining local Palestinians in a non-violent march from Northern Gaza to the Erez/Israeli border. On the Israeli side of the Erez border Palestinians and Israelis will also call on the Israeli government to open the border.

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 U.S. Center for Constitutional Rights Attorney Michael Ratner, Japanese former Ambassador to Lebanon Naoto Amaki, French hip-hop artists Ministere des Affaires Populaires. 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.

Inside Gaza, excitement is growing. Representatives of all aspects of civil society, including students, professors, refugee groups, unions, women’s organizations, NGOs, have been busy organizing and estimate that at least 50,000 Palestinians will participate. People from the different sectors will march in their uniforms–fishermen, doctors, students, farmers, teachers, etc. Local Palestinian rappers, hip-hop bands and Dabbkeh dancers will perform on mobile stages.