By Yu Chun Huang- PNN/ Bethlehem/
After his trip to Palestine in April 2017, where he witnessed systematic discrimination and heard real-life stories about arbitrary violence conducted by the Israeli occupation, 25-year-old activist Benjamin Ladraa decided to raise awareness about human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories by walking from Sweden to Palestine.
Bearing a Palestinian flag and a keffiyeh on his neck, Ladraa set off his journey on the 8th of August 2017, which marked the 100th anniversary of Balfour Declaration, crossing 15 countries through European countries, then Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. He spent 11 months to walk the distance of 4800 km, where he finally arrived at the Israeli border to enter Palestine.
As his inspiring journey finally comes to an end reaching the Israeli border on Friday with several other activist finishing the last kilometers together, Ladraa found himself interrogated by Israeli guards for six hours and eventually being denied entry, claiming that he was lying during the interrogation and that he would join the demonstration at Nabi Saleh.
Throughout his journey, Ladraa was interviewed by the press. He held speeches and lectures to talk about his causes and goals, visited refugee camps and invited the displaced Palestinians to share their stories.
“I believe in order for progress to be made we need to put pressure on Israel to stop their crimes against the Palestinian people,” he says “The way to put pressure is have many people wanting it and taking action, and the way to make people take action is by informing them about the situation, because most people don’t know.”
He documented his journey through social media using #walktopalestine, currently having over twenty thousand followers on Facebook.
“All I hope for with this is that one day the needless suffering of the people living in the holy land will stop,” he said.
Apart from receiving all the supports from citizens and officials whenever Ladraa arrives a new country, there were still some hardships that he had encountered. In Prague, he was detained by the Israeli embassy because of the Palestinian flag, and was once stopped six times in a day during the transit in Greece. The Bulgarian police held him for three hours when he was trying to cross the border.
Ladraa also expressed his feelings, “you get kind of lonely on the road … it’s really quite unbalanced because when I’m in big cities I meet so many people and make tons of new friends and then as soon as I’m leaving I’m completely alone again, just on the road.”
“Now ask yourself why the Israeli state fears one Swedish man so much that they didn’t allow him to enter the country they are occupying. This is the power of activism,” he wrote on Facebook.
Later on 7th of July, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas granted Palestinian citizenship to Ladraa as an appreciation for his solidarity with the Palestinian people, and bestowed the Medal of Merit.
“On behalf of the Palestinian leadership and people of Palestine, we extend our deep gratitude to Ladraa who has demonstrated exceptional courage and integrity by advocating on behalf of the Palestinian people and educating the international community about Israel’s persistent violations and acts of aggression against Palestinian lives, lands and resources; we will remain indebted to Mr. Ladraa,” PLO official mentioned in a statement.