Tom Mehager told a military tribunal that he was no longer prepared to participate in the ''harassment'' of Palestinians in villages near the Rimonim checkpoint, northeast of Ram Allah.

Mehager, 27, refused to serve at the military outpost close to the Ofra settlement in the West Bank.

In an interview from his prison cell, he told Israeli military radio he was no longer prepared to carry out orders which in his opinion had ''no military value''.

After receiving his sentence, Mehager said: ''The punishment that has been handed down to me is nothing in comparison to what we are forcing on the Palestinians.''

Demonstration

Scores of Israelis staged a demonstration at the military checkpoint, in support of declared refuseniks - those who go on record to explain why they are refusing to join the army.

''The punishment that has been handed down to me is nothing in comparison to what we are forcing on the Palestinians''

Tom Mehager,
staff sergeant

Many hundreds of soldiers have signed a petition refusing to serve in occupied Palestine.

According to one news agency, some signatories have been jailed for insubordination.

Israeli human rights organisations and declared refusenik soldier support groups claim that Mehager's story is typical of many soldiers in Israel.

Support

Rela Mazali is the founder of New Profile, a movement that works to support soldiers and other young people in Israel who refuse to sign up to the army.

Young Israelis increasingly object
to serving in occupied territories

''Support for individuals such as Tom Mehager is growing, the climate in this county is changing slowly, so more people feel they can stand up and explain why they don't want to be part of the occupation,'' Mazali told Aljazeera.net.

Mazali says proof of this can be seen by the number of Israeli declared refuseniks and those who object to signing up for the military on non-political grounds, being prosecuted by the army.

''Last year, the army didn't take a single soldier to court, instead they were disciplined for not following orders; this year that has changed. One in three young people who qualify for serving in the Israeli army are now refusing to do so, for a whole range of reasons,'' said Mazali.

The Israeli organisation Courage to Refuse claims that there are 1000 Israelis who are refusing military duty for one reason or another, and a further 562 have pledged not to sign up.

''These individuals are the tip of the submerged iceberg. We are working towards building a truly civic society, which is against the occupation, against militarisation and for improving the lives of all citizens,'' said Mazali.