2017 marks the 100-year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, a vow of British support for the establishment of a Zionist homeland that led to the founding of Israel in 1948. To mark the occasion and express support for the ongoing Palestinian cause, 24-year-old activist Benjamin Ladra has pledged to walk to Palestine from Sweden, with a Palestinian flag on this back.
“I know people will perceive it [the trek] as very tough, so that will bring attention and raise awareness. And a lot of people are going to ask why, and so I can tell them about the situation in Palestine and try and spread some knowledge about the occupation there.”
Although Ladra previously worked as a fundraiser for the Red Cross, it was his independent research into human rights abuses that prompted his interest in the Palestinian cause and motivated him to travel there six months ago.
I’ve seen the occupation with my own eyes and it’s an ongoing apartheid situation, especially in Hebron. Soldiers everywhere, lots of harassment of Palestinians all the time and you can’t know about that and not want to do something about it.
“The more knowledge you gain I think, the more motivated you become to do something about all the injustices in the world. So I think it [interest in activism] started with reading and meeting people that came from different places in the world and they told me about their situation and their stories. It really affected me.”
Read: 100 Balfour Road
He has decided to take a year off to make the journey in order to give him sufficient time to rest between walks. His route will take him through his homeland of Sweden, Austria, Germany, Turkey and Cyprus, before finally leading him to Palestine.
“[The] point of it taking a long time is that hopefully I have a lot of time to talk about the situation and the more time you have, the more you can say, the more people you can meet and the more the message can be spread around.“
Already over ten days into his walk, Ladra admits that the biggest challenge he faces is the loneliness of being away from friends and family.
“Pretty much the only hard part of being here is being alone and away from everyone, but I expected that of course given I’m going to be away for a year and not seeing them. But that’s another challenge that I can overcome.”
When asked what his family’s reaction to his plan was, Ladra laughs and says: “They told me to buy some good shoes!”
He has already met many people on his journey who have expressed support for his trek.
“I have met a lot of people, a lot of Palestinians, and a lot of Swedes of course since I’m in Sweden now. Many people are asking what flag I’m carrying so I take the opportunity to talk about Palestine for a couple of minutes before getting back on the road … There are always people coming forward and wishing me good luck.”
Today I also gave a lecture to school class of 14-year-olds about Palestine. The teacher wrote to me and asked me if I wanted to coming to the school and we ended up meeting in a park with the entire class and I got to speak with them.
Ladra’s trip is entirely self-funded. Whilst he has received a few private donations since his trip started, he is paying for all other basic necessities himself. He confesses that he has been somewhat overwhelmed by the support he has received.
“It [the public reaction] has been very unexpected. I didn’t anticipate this amount of attention. I’m a bit scared of becoming self-centred because I’m receiving so much attention,” he jokes.
Upon arriving in Palestine, Ladra plans to visit towns and villages where numerous locals have written to him in the hope of meeting him. He also wants to visit sites that are significant to his refugee friends.
“[I know] a lot of refugees in Sweden whose grandparents fled in 1948 from Palestine … they have told me about their villages that they have never seen, so I want to take some nice pictures of their villages so I can send it to them and show them where their ancestry is from.”
Ladra emphasises that his motivation lies in his belief that regardless of what change is achieved, it is the responsibility of society to stand for justice.
It’s just a matter of struggling to come as close as possible to world peace, ending world hunger, freeing all the occupied countries.
“You are not supposed to strive to achieve that goal, you are supposed to strive, but realistically the goal is probably not going to be achieved, at least it never has been so far. But that does not mean that we are not going to struggle every day to the best of our ability to come as close as possible. So I’m trying to live by that philosophy I guess.”