By Israel Shamir
Andre Pshenichnikov (24) is a most unusual kid. So unusual that he is languishing in Egyptian jail for crossing the border without proper papers. But his story begins earlier. I first heard of him when this young programmer from a Tel Aviv suburb stayed in Deheishe refugee camp near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. 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.
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.
It did not work out very well: “I was always under suspicion”, – he says. People were hostile to him, excepting a few brave ones. Palestinians did not understand what he was doing there and subtly hinted at it by seizing him and passing him to Israeli security like a hot potato. Israelis charged him with entering the Palestinian Territories – it is forbidden by Israeli law.