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Reports from a refusenik

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At one of the many checkpoints maintained by the Israeli military, a pregnant Palestinian woman can only hope to be lucky enough to go into labor.

That's one of the few effective ways of proving a bulging belly isn't just a pillow packed with explosives, says Major Stav Adivi. A five-year veteran of the Israeli Army and 23-year reservist, he's among the highest ranking officers in Courage to Refuse. The group is made up of reserve soldiers and officers who refuse, often despite jail sentences, to serve in military actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during their four-week active duty stints each year.

"The main reason we refuse to serve is those checkpoints," Adivi says. "You can't stand in the checkpoints and remain a compassionate human being." The checkpoints often come between Palestinians and daily pursuits like medical attention, education, or even their livelihoods --- basic human rights, in his view. "This is something that, morally, we couldn't be a part of," says Adivi.

Last week the Israel daily newspaper Haaretz reported that Courage to Refuse had been nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, whose winner could be announced as early as Friday, October 8. Adivi says he does not believe the group will win --- its competition ranges from George W. Bush and Tony Blair (for waging war on Iraq) to the Pope --- but says the nomination alone is a great honor.

Adivi took his message to synagogues, churches, activist groups, and schools in the Rochester area this weekend, in hopes of creating awareness. "When you had divestment in South Africa everybody knew apartheid was wrong," he says. "People still don't know the occupation is wrong."

He told crowds here that as a refusenik he's acting both out of respect for human rights, and a sense of patriotism for Israel: the military checkpoints are "generating terrorists," he says. The occupation has also drained the life from Israel's civic institutions, he adds. "There is no public energy left to deal with education, the environment, and other issues," says Adivi.

Following is an edited transcript of City Newspaper's discussion with Major Adivi:

City:What's your assessment of how well people in this country understand the situation in Israel and the Occupied Territories?

Stav Adivi: It depends. There are a lot of groups that are looking for peace and justice and the people are very well educated of the details, therefore my message is going there very easily. But the vast majority of people have no knowledge of the facts on the ground. The settlements issue, the roads, the checkpoints --- they're all details, they're all pieces of a puzzle. And those pieces are very important to understand in order to be able to analyze. And the American media will show only the suicide bombers on the one hand and the Israeli Apaches that are targeting the heads of the suicide bombers on the other side, and it's very shallow.

City:This administration has said that its actions in Iraq will make the Middle East safer. From your perspective, is what the United States is doing in Iraq good for Israel?

Adivi: What the United States is doing in Iraq now it's very clear is bad for Israel. Now, removing Saddam was very good for Israel, but if the Middle East will become chaotic, I don't know what's better. I was very happy that Saddam went away, but the question is what was the right way to do it? And I don't have a clear answer for that. I know that you're facing difficulties now in Iraq and I wish you find a way to address it.

City:In the news during the past few days has been the buildup of tanks and armored vehicles inside Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza after a Kassam rocket attack killed two people. Do you think this buffer zone Israel's trying to establish will stop the attacks?

Adivi: No. You know, every army equipment that you find a defense against, someone will build other equipment that will overcome this defense. So the question is not stopping those homemade rockets, the question is how do you reduce the motivation of the people who are creating these rockets from shooting them. Now, they're shooting the rockets because they want to be free. Take the occupation away and you are taking most of the motivation of these people to build these homemade rockets.

And you can't separate the Gaza missile shooting from the occupation in the West Bank. The Palestinian people are one society in the West Bank and Gaza, so unless we have a comprehensive settlement for Gaza and the West Bank at the same time, it is hopeless. They want their freedom and it's not there.

City:What about Ariel Sharon's stated intent to remove settlers from Gaza? Do you see that in a positive light at all, or is it just a distraction from the West Bank?

Adivi: It's a distraction from the West Bank. But, the precedent of dismantling the settlements is very positive. And this is a huge litmus test. If we will be able to dismantle those settlements, it will be a positive symbol and a sign that we will be able to dismantle more settlements. If it will fail it means that we are doomed.

Now, dismantling settlements is good, but it is not good enough. If Sharon will maintain Israel's control over the air transportation, which means that the Palestinians will not be able to open an airport, and if he will decide that we will close the way to ship things overseas --- and he says he will not allow the Palestinians to build a port in Gaza --- and if we will stay in control of the Egyptian border, where the Palestinians will not be able to go to Egypt and back freely, it means that the occupation is still there.

You know, in jail the guards are not controlling the cells, the guards are just controlling the perimeter, and that's what will happen. Gaza will become a huge jail. So you need to do more than the disengagement plan in order to bring a real new reality.

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