A former Israeli soldier, who was residing in the Deheishe refugee camp near Bethlehem, was recently arrested by Palestinian security forces at Israel’s request.

Born in the Soviet Union, Andrey Pshenichnikov, 24, moved to Israel eleven years ago. Pshenichnikov served in the Israel Defense Forces, including an extra 18 months as a career soldier.

In the past three months, Andrey resided on Palestinian territory in the city of Bethlehem and in Deheishe refugee camp, “as part of the political struggle for Palestinian rights,” he explains.

“I wanted to prove that it’s possible to live with Palestinians, as long as you are not coming off as an enemy,” Pshenichnikov told Haaretz. He says that he wanted to “abandon the privileged Zionist life, and cross to the side of the occupied people as a sign of solidarity.” 

Pshenichnikov stated he even tried to surrender his Israeli citizenship in order to apply for a Palestinian one; however, his request was not fulfilled. 

Three months ago Pshenichnikov decided to move to Bethlehem, residing in Deheishe for the past three weeks. In this time, Pshenichnikov worked as a waiter and a construction worker in the Palestinian Authority.

Pshenichnikov’s new neighbors in Bethlehem accepted him, but moving to Deheishe was harder, since the “Arabs suspect any Israeli,” he says. However, Pshenichnikov says he never felt his life was threatened.

It seems Pshenichnikov went through a dramatic ideological shift over recent years, although he is not happy to admit it. “Since I arrived in Israel, I began analyzing reality, reading history. I cannot point at the exact moment, but there was a change,” he explained.

In the IDF, Pshenichnikov served as a computer programmer, but also performed guard duties in the West Bank. Today, Pshenichnikov rejects Zionism and says his views are close to those of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. 

Pshenichnikov’s stay in the West Bank ended three weeks ago, after Palestinian security forces arrested him, at Israel’s request. The Palestinian forces searched his home, interrogated him and transferred Pshenichnikov to the Israeli authorities.

In Israeli custody, Pshenichnikov was under police and Shin Bet interrogations. In Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, the state argued that he was a member of a terrorist organization and that he strives for the destruction of Israel.

Pshenichnikov was released on the same day, only to be arrested again on Palestinian land the next day by Israeli forces. Having refused to sign a document stating he will not enter Palestinian territory again, Pshenichnikov was detained for eight days.

Eventually, Pshenichnikov was released on May 30, after he agreed to sign the document. During the legal deliberations, Pshenichnikov asked to concede his Israeli citizenship and apply for a Palestinian nationality, saying he has no use of the “forced Israeli citizenship.”

Upon his release, Pshenichnikov was charged with entering a closed military zone.