On Monday, March 4, 2013 an Egyptian court sentenced an Israeli to two years in prison for sneaking into the Sinai in an alleged attempt to enter Gaza. Andre Pshenichnikov, 24, was detained on Dec. 31, Egyptian security sources said.
The family of Andre Pshenichnikov told Israeli website Walla News they were surprised by the verdict, noting the maximum penalty for infiltration is normally six months. Egyptian security officials claim Pshenichnikov was filming security installations in Sinai and asking drivers for information.
The 23-year-old Jewish immigrant from Tajikistan already made headlines last summer when he was detained by Israeli police for residing illegally in the Deheishe Refugee Camp near Bethlehem. There he told police that he wants to break all ties with Israel, give up his Israeli citizenship and obtain a Palestinian one instead. “I hate Zionism,” he told the Associated Press in June 2012. “I want to be part of the Palestinian resistance.”
According to Pshenichnikov’s girlfriend, when he attempted to enter Egypt, Israeli authorities detained him for three days for no reason. After his release from Israeli detention, he crossed into Egypt and was then arrested by the Egyptian police. Svetlana Pshenichnikov, Andre’s mother, told Army Radio that he’d received a visa to enter Egypt last week, but that he’d encountered “a problem with his documents.”
Pshenichnikov was held in an Egyptian prison for over a month until he was ordered to be released and deported. However, he was back behind bars the very next day, after the Sharm al-Sheikh public prosecutor ordered a retrial of the left-wing activist. An appeal of his two year sentence is planned for later in the week. Meanwhile, his case arouses a great deal of speculation. Is he an Israeli spy? Commentator Israel Shamir believes the young man is rather an innocent idealist:
“Andre did the impossible. He crossed the biggest chasm there is. Imagine a white boy from Philly, picking cotton and living with blacks in a cabin on a Mississippi plantation in the days of Jim Crow. No Freedom Rider went that far. He broke an important taboo: so many Israelis are convinced that the Palestinians would kill them on sight, at first occasion. By his example he refuted this fantasy. He renounced apartheid personally by living with Palestinians… He did not go there to explore Palestinian way of life, or to write for a newspaper; he was not looking for publicity, he did not hide nor emphasize his Israeli identity. He did not act as an activist, marching at demos and enjoying popularity. He just rented a room, worked at a building site or waited tables in a tourist restaurant just like any Palestinian youth of his age in Deheishe, lived with ordinary people on his salary.”
“Though his actions were reckless, his intentions were noble, and we need such people,” Shamir concludes.
Shamir has advocated for a long time in favor of a One State Solution for Israel and Palestine. He does not believe people should wait for governments to decide their fate. Israelis themselves should go make friends with Palestinians and voluntarily dissolve the Jewish State.
“I signed a separate peace treaty with all my neighbors in the Middle East. As for me, Syrian children may come and swim in the Sea of Galilee, and children of Palestine are welcome to amusement parks of Tel Aviv, while I shall sip Lebanese arak at Bardaouni in Ramallah. The refugees of Gaza may come back to the fields they owned before 1948, and deal directly with the few old Polish Jews who “privatized” the lands. Keep me out of it.”
However, this recent incident shows that at this point in time, Arabs are not yet willing to protect a Jew who renounces Zionism and comes to live with them without official invitation or permission. Each time Pshenichnikov was arrested, it was the Palestinians or the Egyptians that handed him over to the authorities. Because of his openness in supporting the Palestinian cause, he was instantly mistrusted and considered to be stirring up trouble.
Former Israeli jazz musician Gilad Atzmon has also received a lot of opposition from Diaspora Palestinians, who have excluded him from the debate about Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel, at the request of Jews in the BDS movement who feel threatened by Atzmon’s views on Jewish identity politics. Many other deep thinkers have been told that they are not welcome to hold hands with the Palestinians. Even this author has at times been alienated by those who fear that my outspoken support could cause them more problems.
Obviously, it’s a control issue. People who renounce their country, or their religion, or their social and political brainwashing, are free radicals, anarchists. If society accepts their right to question the status quo, other people will start questioning the status quo too. But each person will do it in their own unique way, without any organizational goal or structure. Peace is very dangerous in the sense that no one can control it, just like no parent can control a son who fell in love. In medical terms, a “free radical” is an agent that causes cancer. It infects a living organism and if it is not neutralized, it will disrupt the system and eventually cause it to die. If peace were to erupt, existing governments would no longer be needed.
Of course, there is also the very real problem of infiltration and instigation by spies posing as free radicals, who are actually agents of the enemy, as we have seen time and time again with FBI informants trying to set people up for fake terrorist plots.
Pshenichnikov, whose mother is a Christian, will not receive much sympathy from any Palestinians or Egyptians simply because he is an Israeli immigrant and therefore not to be trusted. He will not receive much sympathy from Israelis, since he is an enemy of Zionism. The Russian government has reportedly taken interest in his case. It will be interesting to see if they decide to negotiate his release.