BEIRUT: Benjamin Ladraa’s Walk to Palestine is still going viral on all social media platforms. Months ago, the Swedish citizen came up with the initiative of walking from Sweden to Palestine, in an attempt to show solidarity for those suffering in Palestine under Israeli occupation.
On June 26, Ladraa reached Jordan, where he will enter Palestine through the West Bank. In a post published on his official Facebook page, Ladraa said he will remain in Jordan for around a week and a half, and added: “When I set the date, I want as many people as possible to walk with me for the last day of this journey. Bring flags and let's make a big solidarity event where we #walktopalestine”
While Ladraa was in Lebanon, Annahar met him and got to hear about the story behind his initiative.
It all started with Ladraa’s first contact with Palestinians in Sweden. Back then, he was taking part in a fundraising event with the Red Cross. One of Ladraa’s colleagues introduced him to his Palestinian friend, and that was when he started reading more about the Palestinian cause.
After graduating high school, Ladraa studied music for four years at high school, and then shifted to majoring in Global Studies, because “the more you know, the more you realize that you don’t know a lot,” he said.
Ladraa mentioned that he was not aware of the suffering taking place all around, but “then the suffering was nagging on me to learn more about it.” That nagging led the young activist to skip his last course “Human Rights” at university, and to fail it because he was on hunger strike.
This handout photo shows Ladraa in Turkey.
FIRST VISIT TO PALESTINE
A short while after that, in 2016, he travelled to Nablus as a drummer, on a music project titled “Ethno,” which he had undertaken before Paris. But that time, music was an excuse for him to stay in Palestine for three weeks.
He went to Hebron (Galilee), a city with 20% of it occupied by Israel, and which has around 200,000 Palestinians, surrounded by walls and checkpoints.
Ladraa, who likes meeting new people as curious as he is about Palestine, was shocked how the Israeli police close down the shops there in that town. Although he has already researched a lot about Palestine before visiting it, he found main highlights in his “suffering discovery” trip, including segregated streets (settlers not allowing Palestinians to live peacefully near them).
Furniture on the streets, and houses covered with Israeli flags were some of the realities that Ladraa came across in Palestine.
One day, as he was walking with Youth Against Settlement, as part of a tour around the occupied area, Ladraa asked an Israeli soldier why there was military everywhere. The “unconvincing” response he got was that there is no occupation, and “we are just protecting the State.”
One of the most important things to know was why Ladraa chose to continue his trip through Jordan, which leads to the occupied West Bank, and not through Egypt which leads to Rafah gate and then Gaza, which has been suffering from a blockage for many years and is in need of more aid.
According to Ladraa, it is impossible to enter through Gaza, and he was “pretty sure he won’t be able to enter from the West bank as well, since they ban activists in solidarity with Palestine from entering.”
Ladraa experienced something similar during his first visit to Palestine. He recalls going through Ben Gurion airport, and being questioned. “We were standing in line to get our visas there and they asked where we were from. They said that we didn’t look Swedish,” he mentioned.
Ladraa, like many others, sees that under occupation, there is neither justice nor freedom.
“You can just be arrested at anytime for no reason. These people have no idea if their children will get back home from school, or if a curfew will be placed at anytime, and no one can walk again,” he said, with tears sparkling in his eyes.
“Unfortunately, just because Israelis have guns, they have authority,” he added.
He seems to be fully aware of many human rights violations happening there and wants to share them eagerly. “They arrest between 500 to 700 children every year, and place them with Israeli prisoners,” he said.
“Why Palestine? because it’s a place where Palestinians cannot drive on certain highways between settlements, they cannot dig wells in their own country, and Israel is stealing their water,” he said.
Adding that Palestinians are living under Israeli military law, so if a Palestinian child throws a stone, he is imprisoned for 20 years, while if an Israeli commits the same crime, a much less punishment is made if it was even made.
Highlighting brutalities committed under Israeli occupation in Palestine, and even ones committed in Lebanon before, Ladraa mentioned the book “The Rise And Kill First” by the Israeli investigative journalist Ron Bergman. The book mainly analyzes the targeted assassination program Israel has had for ages, and affirms how the military and intelligence agencies completely disregard all Israeli laws and constitutions.
“They can just execute Palestinians because they dislike them, according to testimonies from Israeli soldiers,” Ladraa said, recalling what he read about a pilot who felt like he had a magnifying glass and he was killing ants instead of people when he was flying above Gaza. “We just shot at everything that moved,” the soldier has previously said, with complete disregard for Palestinians’ lives.
Ladraa mentioned that he knows millions of stories about Palestine, and has collected hundreds more while visiting Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, including Baddawi, Nahr el Bared, and Mar Elias.
This photo shows Ladraa in one of the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.
These stories are part of the purpose of his journey, as he aims to share as many of them as he can with as many people as possible. “I think that we should pressure Israel to stop its crimes,” he said.
Ladraa thinks that states never care about activists, and he is not surprised by what he called “light harassment” from the Lebanese system when he got here, as he was arrested for many hours as soon as he arrived to Lebanon.
“I was interrogated for six hours when I entered the port in Mina, Tripoli, and questioned from the border intelligence police; I think they wanted to make sure that I’m not an Israeli spy,” he said.
ACTIVISM VS SOCIAL MEDIA BOOM
Ladraa, who has been traveling for 10 months now, did not have a Facebook or Instagram page before. Yet, due to “Walk to Palestine,” he now has more than 17,000 followers on Facebook.
To fund his trip, he did some crowdfunding. He has visited 13 countries to complete his trip: Sweden, Germany , Czech, Slovakia, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.
His upcoming plans after the trip ends are mainly to proceed with his activism for human rights.
The trip continues, and probably in a week and a half, Ladraa will be in Palestine, a country suffering a lack of funds from UN’s Refugee Agency, whose financial crisis mainly increased with Washington’s budget cut of 250 million USD early 2018.
On June 25, Miroslav Lajcak, the president of the UN General Assembly, said in front of an UNRWA conference in New York that "Schools may not be able to open on time in August.” He also mentioned that other services could start to be affected in July, and humanitarian activities in the West Bank and Gaza are at risk.
Previous pledging conferences saw UNRWA so far meeting around half its target of $446m for the year.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, however, said that "Failure to provide desperately needed resources comes with a price, more hardship for communities, more desperation for the region, more instability for our world.”
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