Swedish activist Benjamin Ladraa has completed two thirds of his trip to Palestine as he leaves Bulgaria and enters Turkey.
As part of his #WalkToPalestine journey, Ladraa has travelled through Slovakia, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria over the past seven months, and is now walking 1,200 kilometres to the Turkish city of Iskenderun.
“Bulgaria has been so much better than I expected … all the people I’m meeting here are very friendly, lots of solidarity with Palestine,” he says cheerfully.
Ladraa started his trip to raise awareness of the ongoing Israeli occupation and, as his journey has gained notoriety, he has often been called upon to give lectures and press interviews on the situation of the Palestinian people.
“Both in Sofia and Plovdiv, the second biggest city, I had such a wonderful time meeting many nice people, doing lots of media interviews, talking about the situation for Palestinians. I was even invited to parliament in Sofia and I spoke to the Friendship Group for Palestinians and Bulgarians.”
The Palestinian embassies have also been aiding Ladraa along the way by putting him in touch with Palestinians across Europe living on his route.
“In both Belgrade and Sofia the Palestinian embassy invited me and helped me a lot with finding Palestinians in these countries. They are helping me with some local information and finding contacts,” he explains.
Ladraa is still being stopped regularly by police during his walk, and was once stopped six times in one day during a brief transit through Greece. He has also had his belongings searched, and was arrested at the Bulgarian border and taken to the police station.
“It’s only the police that have been bothering me a lot. When I crossed the border from Serbia to Bulgaria, I was arrested for three hours, the Bulgarian police held me. They did not believe my story that I was walking to Palestine,” he laughs.
The 24-year-old admits that there are times when he gets lonely, but that he looks forward to meeting new people in each city: “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 tonnes of new friends and then as soon as I’m leaving I’m completely alone again, just on the road.”
Ladraa keeps his followers up to date with his travels via his social media pages and has been actively campaigning for the release of Palestinian teen Ahed Tamimi.
“Today is the trial of Ahed Tamimi. She faces 10 years in prison for resisting the occupation. Over 300 children are imprisoned by Israel,” he writes on Facebook, with a picture of bricks forming the words “Free Ahed”.
Ladraa has been raising awareness about the plight of the Palestinian people since making a trip to Hebron in the occupied West Bank last year.
“The injustice I had witnessed was overwhelming. What I could do to help seemed beyond me. Pulling myself together I started to join every demonstration and conference I could find,” he writes in an article about his motivation for the trip.
“I tried to talk to everyone I knew about what was going on and when over a thousand Palestinian political prisoners launched a hunger strike I organised a group of people and in solidarity went on hunger strike with them to raise awareness.”
“I’m not suggesting that everyone should walk to Palestine but I am suggesting that we all should take a look in the mirror and ask how we can contribute to a better world,” he concludes.
As he travels further into Turkey, Ladraa is looking forward to seeing his family and friends who are flying in to visit him.
“In Istanbul my family is coming to visit, flying all the way from Sweden just to say ‘Hi’ and I am really looking forward to that.”
Having been walking for 240 days, he is excited to be getting closer to his destination.
“I can really feel Palestine getting closer. When I was in Plovdiv, a very old city it felt more Middle Eastern than any city I’ve been to so far. I found a café that had knafeh which was awesome!”