Logan Mehl Laituri
City of Residence:
Truthfully, my heart is in three places; O’ahu (Hawaii), Tustin, CA, and Israel/Palestine
Technically, none since I left the military in October. I kind of think of myself as a wandering missionary/peacemaker. I like where that has lead me so far…
What prompted your visit to the Middle East? And your later question; How did you get involved with the Christian Peacemaker Teams?
I went on my first trip to the area with the army when I was deployed with the 25th Infantry Division from January 2004 to February 2005. While I was there, I fell in love with the area, it’s culture, and most importantly, the people. At the same time, I was heartbroken at the treatment they experienced daily. At the deepest level, I felt corporately responsible for what they were going through, and I wanted to understand more about the context under which the US was there, so I read the 9/11 Commission Report.
When I returned to Hawaii in February 2005, I began to see comprehend my place in the geo-political situation which brought my unit and my friends to Iraq and I wanted to do my part in being a part of the solution, instead of simply being another uninformed participant. I went through not just a political stirring, but I also was struck by a spiritual awakening. In April, I recommitted myself to taking my spiritual roots in Christianity seriously. As I was determining what it meant to live as Jesus calls His followers, I came to the conclusion that when He said to ‘love your enemies,’ He didn’t mean to kill them (in overly-simplified language). In a job that involved a LOT of killing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artillery_observer), I felt I had to change if I were to be serious about following Jesus.
As a result of an experience I had in April, I decided to apply for status as a Noncombatant Conscientious Observer (http://www.objector.org/girights/gettingout/conscientious-objection.html). I submitted my application on June 5th, 2006 and asked to remain in my unit and deploy to Iraq again (we were on orders for a second deployment in August 2006), but I made it clear that I would not carry a weapon into combat. After much paperwork, interviews, skepticism, and even harassment, I was eventually diagnosed as having a mental disorder that would prevent me from deploying with my unit (my inability to internally reconcile my professional obligations and my religious convictions, as well as not having any regard for my own safety, was labeled as a potentially hazardous type of “Adjustment Disorder”). I watched my unit leave for Kuwait, on their way to Iraq, in early August.
After they left, I began to seek ways to be a missionary to the Middle East despite being held in Hawaii. I learned of Christian Peacemaker Teams (http://www.cpt.org/) after becoming friends with many previous delegates who had traveled with CPT on delegations to various nations in the Middle East. CPT no longer had delegations to Iraq, so I applied for Israel after they began their campaign in Lebanon. When I went to my commander to get approval to leave the country on a leave period, he asked me where I wanted to go. I explained to him my intentions, but I was told not to count on it. I was not expecting to go until a computer system update miraculously exempted me from having to remain on duty past my original separation date (on a policy called a “Stop/Loss program). On October 19th, after finishing the required transition program out of the Army, I was officially on “Terminal Leave (meaning I was basically released early to use up my accumulated ‘vacation days’). On November 21st (my official release date), after a LONG flight from LAX to Tel Aviv on the 20th, I was in the West Bank, realizing my call to social justice work in the Middle East.
What regions did you visit while there?
I visited many areas in direct conflict such as Ramallah, Hebron, Susiyah, and Bil’in. During the CPT delegation, we spoke to Israelis and Palestinians alike who felt the effects of the Occupation daily. We visited large, noteworthy NGOs as well as unknown civilians who wanted to see and end to the treatment of civilians in the West Bank and Gaza. After the two weeks with CPT, I remained for an additional two weeks to further develop my understanding of the conflict. I spoke with students at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and Birzeit University in Ramallah. I spoke to former and current IDF soldiers and reserves (http://www.shovrimshtika.org/index_e.asp) and peaceniks/refuseniks (http://www.yeshgvul.org/index_e.asp). I spoke with Rabbis (http://www.rhr.israel.net/) and Orthodox Jews (http://www.cfoic.com/, and http://www.nkusa.org/index.cfm), even Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem and Jerusalem (http://www.openbethlehem.org/). To add just a few more viewpoints, I spoke with esteemed secular Israeli (http://www.btselem.org/) and Palestinian NGOs (http://www.holylandtrust.org/, and http://www.badil.org/) who have much to share about the legal implications of the conflict between Israel and its neighbors.
Much of my time was spent in East and West Jerusalem, though I also traveled briefly to Tel Aviv, in addition to my time in the West Bank in Palestinian villages and developed cities as well as Israeli settlements. The farthest north I reached was Ari’el, north east of Tel Aviv in the West Bank, and At-Tuwani village in the south Hebron hills. The farthest east I traveled was the settlement of Ma’ale Adummim, and to the west, of course I saw a bit of Tel Aviv on my way to/from the airport.
What did you do while you were there?
Most time with CPT was spent meeting with NGOs and families ‘on the ground,’ so to speak. Two and three of these meetings per day was commonplace. Once I was more on my own, I traveled to a few regions that I wanted to know more about or to re-visit some families or organizations that I found a distinct interest in understanding more about. This included nonviolent protests in Bil’in and Hebron, supporting presences in farmlands threatened by settler violence, and religious rituals in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. I also took the opportunity to do some brief religious tourism around the Old City of Jerusalem and in Bethlehem.
What was your impression of what you saw going on around you?
My impression was initially of an oppressive feeling of hopelessness and despair (my own) in fear of this conflict continuing indefinitely. Before long, however, my feelings changed to that of perseverance and hope from people I was sure had had more than their share of depression and misery. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of faith so many Palestinians have that this generation will see peace, and that it will come only after both sides begin to respect the dignity of one another and contribute to the process of reconciliation.
Late in my trip I was more than a little disturbed by the religious fervor that fuels much violence perpetuated against indigenous Palestinians and Israelis alike. It is my belief that both Arab terrorism and settler violence are tied together in mutual fear and willful misinterpretation of holy scriptures, both the Muslim Qu’ran and the Jewish Torah, as a result of pride and/or greed. However, I was given hope in meeting Israelis and Palestinians who had lost family members to suicide bombers or IDF and settler hostility who refused to perpetuate the cycle of violence (http://www.theparentscircle.com/). Their courage to stand firmly against deep fear and the illusion of ‘redemptive violence’ was something that still puts tears in my eyes. Their suffering has not been inappropriately transferred onto their fellow man; they have stood for respect over revenge, peace over pride, restorative justice over punitive justice.
In your opinion, what do you think can be done to resolve the Israel/Palestine conflict?
Communicate: resume negotiations. Both parties must be able to dialogue openly and discuss their concerns and goals in a responsible manner. The meeting between Ehud Olmert and Abu Massen in the Prime Minister’s residency in Jerusalem on December 23 was a significant step in the right direction. Without an open dialogue between the two parties, things will not get better, only worse. Along with a willingness to negotiate, each party must also be able to acknowledge their own responsibility in the conflict and be willing to address and excuse one another’s’ past offenses.
Compromise: restore justice. Reconciliation is a lengthy process, and it must be tempered with empathy and respect by both parties. The PNA must condemn, openly and practically, Hamas’ endorsement of terrorist tactics and in-fighting with Fatah in Gaza, as well as recognize and respect Israel’s right to exist. In turn, Israel must cease their blockade of Gaza and withdraw settlers from the West Bank, giving Palestine a sovereign territory free of the threat of illegal expansion.
Cooperate: rebuild confidence. Both Palestinians and Isrealis are apprehensive about trusting one another and with good reason. They must insist, therefore, that their elected representatives be bound to their constituents’ insistence upon a just and lasting peace between all parties. This must involve a renewed effort to respect one another’s distinct sovereignty and work bilaterally to resolve matters in a manner which satisfies and respects both group’s shared humanity and dignity.
Commit: maintain resolve. As both parties struggle through the difficult and tenuous path of peace, each must remain steadfast in their efforts. As factions in-fight, both heads of state must place responsibility properly where it belongs. If this means the Palestinian National Authority (PA) denounces Hamas for terrorism, or the Knesset condemns violations of human rights by Israeli settlers, then such measures must be taken, even at the risk of distancing guilty parties from mainstream support. Peace must be made the priority, not partisan politics. Peace must be the means and the end.
What are your plans for the future?
Later this month, I will be traveling to Philadelphia to live in a Christian community and learn to live simply, so that others may simply live. I will be learning how to minimize my draw on the world around me and focus on sustainable living in such a commercially driven culture. While I am in Philadelphia, I am looking to learn basic conversational Arabic, so that I might not be ignorant of the majority population in the countries in the region I have fallen in love with. I am also determined to learn more about Arab culture and Islam and read through the Qu’ran in order to approach and understand Muslim influence in the region.
Currently, I am also in the process of applying to school in Israel. This way, I will be allowed to remain on a one year student visa (instead of the three month tourist visa) and continue my slow process of obtaining my Bachelors Degree. If I am accepted, and miraculously find the money to get back out there, I will be attending school in the fall as a junior on a study abroad type of program with Hebrew University’s English-speaking campus; Rothberg International. While I am there, I will be committed to learning Hebrew and continuing my major in Psychology. As a continuance of my mission last month, I will also try to organize on campus and raise awareness of the state of the Occupation in the West Bank. Unfortunately, students are not allowed to travel into the West Bank or Gaza, under penalty of expulsion, and this policy contributes to and perpetuates mass complacency and ignorance among some of the future leaders of the State of Israel. I also feel called to learn more about Jewish heritage and history, as it directly applies to my own Christian beliefs (Jesus and His disciples were Jewish, after all).
Finally, I want to be a part of the peace process in the area. I feel that my efforts would be almost a reward in themselves, as I owe so much to all the great people I have met in Israel and Palestine. I want to learn from and educate both Israelis and Palestinians in true nonviolence; the same methods the US learned Dr. Martin Luther King and Britain learned from Gandhi. We must share the experiences that taught an entire nation that the only way to break the cycle of continued violence and oppression against an entire people is through peaceful means. With any luck, their memory will be served in the Middle East as much as it was in South Africa, in their Apartheid. Additionally, the US must recognize it’s responsibility in