Last summer, after leaving IDF service, Andrei Pshenichnikov, age 24, underwent a radical political conversion. He began working with anti-Occupation groups and decided to renounce his Israeli citizenship. Further, he actually moved to the Deheisha refugee camp outside Bethlehem and took up jobs working for a hotel and construction there.
But the Shabak grew suspicious of him and directed Palestinian security forces to arrest him. The Palestinians transferred him to IDF custody. Under interrogation, they accused him of belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. After his release, with the understanding he would return to his familiy home in Bat Yam, he actually returned to the West Bank.
He was rearrested and detained for eight days when he refused to post bail because he refused to recognize the authority of the Israeli court. His passports were confiscated, which prevented him from traveling–or so the security forces thought.
But Pshenichnikov (I believe) determined to get out from under Israeli authority and hatched a plan to enter Gaza via Egypt. There he would be truly out from under the thumb of Israel and its security forces. He crossed the border at Taba. Later he was arrested. He called his mother and told her about his arrest. When friends called his cell phone, Egyptian police answered and questioned the friends about whether they supported Hamas. The authorities variously told them that he was being detained at Rafiach or Port Said.
Based on this information, I’m guessing the Pshenichnikov had told the police that he wanted to go to Gaza. The Egyptians didn’t know what to make of this.
My confidential Israeli source was told by an Egyptian official last night that Pshenichnikov was being interrogated in Nueiba (close to Taba). The police there, he was told, believed that the anti-Occupation activist was actually an Israeli agent. My source, who himself has connections in the Israeli political, military and intelligence echelons, passed on a message from a senior Israeli official that the detainee was not an Israeli agent and that Israel’s intelligence community would never recruit someone with such political views.
Though I believe they would recruit such a person if they thought they could turn him, I don’t believe any Israeli intelligence official would reasonably expect he could turn an IDF soldier who’d grown disgusted with the military and Israeli society in general, and become a radical anti-Zionist.
Historically, Israel has sent agents to live in Palestinian communities. This Ynet story is a fascinating portrait of an absolutely bizarre 1952 Shabak program which infiltrated 10 Iraqi Jews into Israeli Palestinian communities, where they were expected to report on subversive or dangerous elements in case there was another war between Israel and the Arab nations. The agents assumed false Palestinian identities, married Palestinian women, and had children with them.
Ten years later, after the program was deemed a failure, the Shabak told the men they were cancelling it. The agents refused to abandon their wives and families. The intelligence agency called all the women to France and told them their husbands were not who they thought they were. After much psychological disturbance, most of them moved to Israel, assumed identities as Jews, and their children were declared converted to Judaism by the chief rabbi. However, there was great and ongoing psychological trauma for both the wives and the children. Chalk it up to yet another outrageous experiment with fragile human souls for dubious benefits. The wages of the national security state are permanent, ongoing personal trauma.
Returning to Pshenichnikov, he clearly had a wild-eyed plan one might expect from a 24 year-old. I don’t know how Hamas would react to an Israeli Jew seeking to live among Palestinians in Gaza. Even if they accepted him, he would presumably be a kidnap target for groups more radical than Hamas. Life for him wouldn’t be very comfortable or secure.
But I have to admire his commitment to his values. Most Israelis who’d grown disenchanted with their society would emigrate to Europe or the U.S. The Russian-Israeli deliberately rejected the easy way. He wanted to remain in the region in order to try to undo the damage of the Occupation which he and his fellow Israelis had inflicted. His predicament is tragic in a sense. He can’t remain in Israel nor will it probably be safe for him in Gaza.
Perhaps the best that he can hope for is a negotiated arrangement with the Shabak that allows him to live unmolested in the West Bank. The problem is that Pshenichnikov has made a very public rejection of Israel and embrace of life in Palestine. This is the sort of provocation that gets the Shabak’s dander up.
There are other Israelis who live in the West Bank. But they do so much more quietly and don’t make public their disgust with Israel. They don’t live in refugee camps or thumb their noses at the Shabak. Perhaps the activist will figure out a modus vivendi that will allow him to share their life in Palestine.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.