The 70-year occupational strife between Palestine and Israel has made headlines over the past few weeks, with militants unleashing mortar attacks on Southern Israel and Israel’s response of tank fire and air strikes on Gaza. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was their “harshest blow” on Gaza since 2014, according to the Independent. Most recently, there was an Egypt-induced ceasefire amid the devastation.
Just days before the violent bombings, Swedish activist Benjamin Ladraa walked from his home country all the way to the Israeli border, only to get denied entry. Ladraa, 25, told Al Jazeera that he wasn’t too surprised he wasn’t granted entry, since Israel has secrets they’d rather keep within their borders. In addition, Ladraa pointed out instances when activists have slowly dismantled regimes and created an impact by forcing people to listen - something that Israel would rather avoid. For that reason, he does not regret his 11 month journey that ended with rejection.
I'm sitting at the airport on my way home to Sweden now. The journey I did exceeded every expectation I had when I walked out my front door a year ago and I am now more convinced then ever that activism is the key to a better future. No one knows how far their influence can reach and how big a part they can play in changing the world. I belive that by pushing our boundaries, overcoming our fears and manifesting our principles and humanity in action, we can make an impact. With this journey I chose action instead of despair in the face of injustice. At the end of the day I know that I only have one choice to make. There are a lot of bad people pushing the world in the wrong direction. The only choice I have is if I'm going to be one of the good people trying to push the world in the right direction. I will try to make that choice every day and continue to not only talk about what I think should happen but also try to make it happen. #walktopalestine
For Ladraa, activism is about awareness; and awareness is about compassion; and compassion is about change. “[The journey] sort of proved that it can work - you know - the idea of raising awareness in order to engage people in trying to actually make positive social change,” Ladraa says. His mission was already complete before his denial at the Israeli border, considering he had already accomplished “11 months of activism”. He had reached people in multiple countries, hosting seminars wherever he could, speaking to whoever would listen. “People are shocked and most people don’t know the story. So when you tell the story and show the pictures [and] let them talk to Palestinians directly, you can really see how it affects people.”
While Ladraa was passing through Slovenia’s second largest city, Maribor, a hostel had arranged a lecture for him. When he walked in the room, there were a few others, a table and a T.V. - nothing that would guarantee an influential seminar. But it turned out to be a prominent memory from the journey: reminding him of the impact activism can bear.
“Almost no one came. There were only 5 people but we had a huge TV - maybe 70 inches or something - and we sat around this small table, very intimately. Me and five others and this huge screen in the background where I showed my presentation and all the pictures. And it had almost become routine, talking about all of these atrocities, so I didn’t really think about what I was really saying. But after a while, talking about the atrocities of the occupation, I noticed that everyone was getting teary-eyed and like having a hard time pulling it together. That made me realize, also, about the horrible things that we are talking about and that it is so shocking for people who have never heard it before. It really went straight into their heart.”
The displays Ladraa shared exhibited images that he says haven’t even been in the news - it evoked a different level of recognition for his listeners. “There are a lot of levels to being aware,” Ladraa explains. To prove this theory, he uses another humanitarian example where he is cognizant of the situation, yet still fails to be fully receptive: “I am not aware at the same time because it hasn’t affected my mind and my heart to the extent that I would actually care. Of course, I care if you ask me intellectually, but my heart doesn’t care because I don’t know the people and I haven’t been there and seen it and smelt it and touched it,” he says. “There are different levels of being engaged.”
After awaress, Ladraa explains, comes action. He says that the necessary action is for citizens of their respective countries to pressure their governments into doing something about the conflict, and to “hold Israel accountable”, through political, diplomatic, economic and humanitarian means. One group has been taking action over the past decade and have gained a lot of ground in doing so.
Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is one activism organization that has seen lots of growth since over 150 Palestinians got together in 2005. The group is an example of one of Israel’s advocacy foes. Essentially, the goal of the group is to restore equality and human rights to Palestinians and end the Israeli occupation. BDS has expanded from the Middle East to the U.S., UK, Australia and are exhibited throughout post-secondary institutions, churches and more, according to Hilary Aked, PhD researcher at the University of Bath, and freelance journalist. Ladraa is not a member of BDS, but both the individual and the organization are fighting for the same cause.
Ladraa spent hours being interrogated by the Israeli border patrol. He knew the border patrol understood he was an activist and were expecting his arrival. Yet, bantering questions went on for a few hours until they got a bit more serious, flipped off the playful switch, and turned their computer screen in his direction. An internet browser page was open and they had searched his name. “If you Google my name, there is a big Palestinian flag as the picture. They’re like, ‘is this you?’ I was like, ‘yup, that’s me.’ They said, ‘you’re not just a tourist, you’re not here to just visit.’” Got him.
He is now home and planning a trip to America to extend lectures until leaving before the visa requiry date. Which begs the question: will he walk across America?- “I would walk; that’s no problem. But it takes too long. I only have like 90 days,” Ladraa says with reminiscent laughter.
Ladraa’s first stop is on the fourth of September in Washington, D.C. He is hoping to give around 100 seminars during his time there.