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Returning to Jaffa: The Triumphant Odyssey of Palestinian Refugee Hassan Hijazi

 

Hassan Hijazi, a Syrian-Palestinian youth, is as surprised as the Israeli police.  Hassan, who is a civil servant in the Education Ministry of Syria, had never imagined, even in his wildest dream, that one day he would be able to stroll on the streets of Jaffa, a city annexed to Tel Aviv.  “My parents told me that I was born here, and I hope to come back some day to live here with my family,” explained Hassan, who, together with 150 other Palestinians, managed to cross the border between Israel and Syria on Sunday.

Just when most of the “infiltrators” (a majority of whom were Palestinian refugees) were being sent back to Syrian territory after a successful visit to the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights, Hassan (28) began his own odyssey in enemy territory.  “In Majdal Shams, I talked with Jewish, Arab, and French peace activists.  I asked them to take me with them,” he says.

While the Israeli police and military and the international media were focused on the border, with four protesters killed and the border fence overcome, Hassan got into the activists’ car, which took him to the main highway in the north.  Then, hitchhiking and hopping on buses, he arrived in Tel Aviv.  That’s what he had envisioned on Facebook, knowing that it was a mission impossible.  But it wasn’t.


After being interviewed by a journalist from Israel’s Channel 10 TV and before voluntarily surrendering himself at a police station, Hassan said in the heart of Jaffa: “I wasn’t afraid and I’m not afraid.  On the bus to Jaffa, I sat next to Israeli soldiers.  I realized that they were more afraid than I was.  On the bus I encountered several members of the Golani Brigade, which is an elite unit in Israel.  I don’t give a damn about the Israeli law since I don’t recognize this entity called the State of Israel.  I say this right here in the heart of Israel.  Just as they say there are Palestinians who don’t want to return and who prefer to live in Europe or America, there are many Jews who don’t want to be here and who want to go back to their countries of origin, I’m convinced.”

One of the big questions is whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad not only permitted the popular march toward the Israeli border to divert attention but also promoted it.  Hassan gives an interesting clue: “We were the ones who organized these border demonstrations via Facebook.  At first, the Syrian regime didn’t accept our initiative though we sent representatives to persuade them.  Finally, [Lebanese Shia group] Hezbollah pressured Syria and managed to talk them into letting us go to the border.”

Hassan believes he won a “moral victory” by infiltrating and reaching Jaffa, but he admits: “What we have done is symbolic.  A true victory will come with the Arab armies.”

Upon his arrival at the police station, Hassan flashed a victory sign, saying: “This is not Israel.  This is Palestine.  It’s my land.”  He added that he doesn’t want to go back to Syria and would rather stay in Jaffa.  When asked about Assad’s repression of his own people, he only said: “He is a good president.”

The Israeli police, who arrested him for an illegal entry into Israeli territory, acknowledges that “the situation is embarrassing.”


Sal Emergui, born in Barcelona, is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem.  The original article “La victoriosa odisea de Hassan,” of which the above is an excerpt, was published in a blog sponsored by El Mundo on 17 May 2011.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi (@yoshiefuruhashi | yoshie.furuhashi [at] gmail.com).




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