JERUSALEM – A Syrian man who crossed into Israel in a large crowd that breached a border fence hitchhiked across the country, even sitting beside Israeli soldiers on a public bus, to find the home he said his family lost during Israel's 1948 establishment.
Hassan Hijazi, who is of Palestinian descent, told reporters he spent a full day on the run, making his way some 130 miles (200 kilometers) from the Golan Heights to a Tel Aviv neighborhood before surrendering to police late Monday.
A Tel Aviv court ordered him held until Thursday, saying he posed a possible risk, but said authorities were empowered to deport him earlier if they chose.
Hijazi, 28, was among dozens of Arabs — mostly of Palestinian descent — who broke through a fence along Syria's frontier with the Israeli-controlled Golan on Sunday to mourn the anniversary of the establishment of the Jewish state on May 15, 1948.
"It was my dream to reach Jaffa," the Syrian Education Ministry official told Channel 10 TV before his surrender. He said his parents lived in the port city, which since has been annexed by Tel Aviv, before being displaced during Israel's war of independence. It was unclear whether Hijazi found the house or its location.
His family, he said, was among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes during the war over Israel's creation. The fate of the refugees, and several million descendants, is a central issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Palestinian mourning ritual on the date the Jewish state was declared drew an unprecedented wave of protests this year in Syria and Lebanon, home to large Palestinian refugee populations. Fifteen people were killed in clashes with Israeli forces.
In all, four people who crossed into Israel from Syria, including Hijazi, were detained. The Israeli military said two were returned to Syria on Tuesday morning. It was not immediately known what happened to the fourth person.
Hijazi said he broke through the border fence in the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war, then hitched a ride in a minivan with Israeli and French Arab peace activists.
After making his way to Israel's coastal road along the Mediterranean Sea, he boarded a bus to Tel Aviv, where he road alongside Israeli soldiers. He offered the name of an infantry unit he said they belonged to, and said he was never afraid. It was not clear how he knew which bus to take or how he paid for his fare.
"I don't recognize anything about the state of Israel," he added.
The border breach was more a symbolic achievement against Israel than a victory, Hijazi said.
"The real thing will happen between armies, he said.