After spending more than 11 months walking through high-altitude plateaus, windswept forests and muddy migrant trails, a Swedish activist’s attempt to reach occupied Palestine has come to an abrupt end after Israeli authorities turned him away from the border.
Benjamin Ladraa, 25, began his journey on August 5, 2017 to raise awareness of Israel’s 70-year occupation of Palestine.
Ladraa was just hundreds of metres from his destination after walking more than 4,800km from the Swedish city of Gothenburg and across mainland Europe.
“I spent 11 months making this journey to raise awareness of the occupation, and despite being interrogated and denied entry I would do it all again,” he told Al Jazeera.
Walking for between eight and 10 hours a day, Ladraa crossed a total of 13 countries by foot on the same routes used by refugees and migrants.
Forced to sleep in abandoned buildings and brave harsh winter weather conditions, his journey saw him garner more than 18,000 followers on Instagram and more than 20,000 on Facebook.
“I’ve managed to reach thousands of people through this campaign and hopefully raise further awareness of the suffering of the Palestinian people,” he said.
Israel has a long history of rejecting Palestinians and activists at the border so I was not surprised they denied me entry
‘They have a lot to hide’
Ladraa said Israeli officers interrogated him for six hours and suggested he would not be allowed in because “he was lying”.
“They gave two reasons for rejecting my entry. First, they accused me of lying, the other was they claimed I was coming to orchestrate protests in Nabi Saleh village [near Ramallah], something which is completely untrue.”
For several years, Israel has attempted to block activists who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which leads a nonviolent campaign aimed at pressuring Israel to adhere to international law.
Last year, the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amended its entry law allowing Israeli authorities to deny entry visas to activists who support BDS or oppose illegal settlements.
“Israel has a long history of rejecting Palestinians and activists at the border, so I was not surprised they denied me entry,” Ladraa said.
“They have a lot to hide and know what impact human rights activists can have. Last week they prevented [BDS activist] Ariel Gold from coming in … they’re scared of the role we play in exposing Israel and working towards a free Palestine.”
Abuse and violence
Ladraa said while he was interrogated at the crossing, he was subject to a torrent of abuse by Israeli officials who questioned his reasons for making the journey.
“The officials were working on information given to them by the Jordanians. They would change their tone during the interrogation. One minute they would be polite, the next they would be harsh and aggressive.”
The Swedish musician said the experience reminded him of his travels through Eastern Europe where locals would wrongly report him to police for being a refugee and where he was attacked for carrying a large Palestinian flag.
One of the highlights of his trip was his detention in Austria. Ladraa said he was picked up by guards at the Israeli embassy in Vienna because of his flag and trolley.
On hearing of his ordeal, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas granted Ladraa citizenship on Friday and bestowed on him the Medal of Merit.
Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi said Ladraa’s support for the Palestinian cause “represents the conscience of humanity”.
“On behalf of the Palestinian leadership and people of Palestine, we extend our deep gratitude to Ladraa,
“He 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.”