A Sylvania man is among a 12-person delegation scheduled to arrive in Israel today for two weeks to meet with Israeli and Palestinian peace and human-rights activists and tour Palestinian communities in the West Bank region.
Mission travel is nothing new for Casey Burnett, 27, who has done volunteer work in Portland, Ore., and Seattle and said the purpose of his current trip is to see the living conditions of Palestinian families "whose lands, homes, and livelihoods have been threatened by expanding Israeli settlements and construction of the so-called security fence."
Mr. Burnett said he strives to "step aside" from political judgment of the ongoing conflict between Israeli security forces and Palestinian militants, which results in "mutual oppression and retaliatory violence.
"There's a lot of bystanders who are being affected, and aren't really concerned with what has gone before," he said in a recent telephone interview as he traveled on business for Ultra Light Adventure Equipment, a backpacking company for which he works.
The trip is organized by Christian Peacemaker Teams, a Chicago-based group that has a continuing presence in At Tuwani, a village in the West Bank southeast of Hebron, for more than a decade and has also sent violence-reduction teams to conflict settings elsewhere since 1993.
Mr. Burnett said he learned of the group through a campus minister at Capital University in Columbus, from which he graduated in 2004, and followed its Web site and blogs until recently, when the group's mission schedule "came together" with his availability to travel.
A 2000 graduate of Sylvania Northview High School, Mr. Burnett has been a substitute teacher at Lial Elementary School in Whitehouse and at St. John's Jesuit High School and Rosary Cathedral School in Toledo.
For two years, he lived with other Jesuit Volunteer Corps participants in the Pacific Northwest, serving as a volunteer organizer and activity leader at a housing project for homeless people in Seattle and then as a parole and probation center volunteer in Portland.
Mr. Burnett said those activities and the Middle East mission are all part of "a lifestyle of peace and justice I'm trying to build."
The current trip is "not a vacation," he said. "I'm witnessing for them and broadening my own experience."
While Mr. Burnett said he is aware of a need "to be alert about safety" in a part of the world where Americans are sometimes targeted for violence, Christian Peacemaker Teams "goes where they're invited."
When he returns from Israel, Mr. Burnett plans to give talks to church groups in Cleveland and Toledo in hopes of giving his audience a "deeper than the news" understanding of living conditions in the West Bank.
"I know how ignorant I was, and I'm fairly well-educated," he said.