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[PCUSANEWS] Writing wrongs
PCUSA NEWS <PCUSA.NEWS@ecunet.org>
Tue, 5 Aug 2003 16:47:21 -0500
Note #7871 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:
August 5, 2003
Detterick recounts eye-opening trip to Middle East
by John Detterick
General Assembly Council
Editor's note: For two weeks in July, GAC Executive Director John Detterick
traveled in the Middle East. This is his account of that trip, conveyed in
his "weekly letter" to council members on Aug. 1. - Jerry L. Van Marter
LOUISVILLE - Uplifting, discouraging, provocative, overwhelming and
Describing my whirlwind ten days in the Middle East is still difficult as I
continue to work through the incredible and sometimes contradictory
experiences. I can say for sure that one thing I did learn is that everything
I "knew" about the Middle East was either wrong or not exactly right.
Victor Makari, Coordinator for the Middle East and Europe, was a most
gracious and patient guide and traveling companion. He must have grown tired
of the constant questions, the repeated "tell me again about what this group
does," or the "once again tell me this person's name." But Victor was always
the gentle teacher and efficient facilitator.
The only problem in traveling with Victor was seeing the hassle and
intimidation he experiences at every Israeli checkpoint when they looked at
his USA passport and saw that his birthplace was Egypt. That guaranteed he
would be treated with suspicion and little courtesy. Seeing Victor treated
that way was very frustrating for me. But through it all Victor was patient
and gracious. Under those circumstances I doubt I could have done likewise.
Here's an outline of our itinerary:
*a day in Cyprus where the Middle East Council of Churches has a liaison
office and I attended a young leaders conference on reconciliation;
*two days in Beruit interacting with partner church leaders;
drove overland through the Bekaa Valley to Damascus, Syria, where we met with
religious and governmental leaders and members of the Evangelical (read
Presbyterian) Church of Damascus;
*drove overland to Amman, Jordan to spend time with mission personnel;
*drove overland into the Jordan Valley, across the Jordan River just north of
the Dead Sea and up into the hills (much more rugged hills than I had
expected) to Jerusalem;
*a day in Bethlehem with partner church personnel (and a bit of sightseeing
for this wide-eyed, first time visitor); and
*a day in Jerusalem visiting Israelis who are involved in the peace movement
and visiting sights where Palestinian homes have been bulldozed.
Each day was full of events and meetings from early morning to late at night,
so I'm still sorting out all the memories and impressions, two of which I'll
share with you here.
DAMASCUS: 'BRING BACK AMERICA'
The Evangelical Church of Damascus is located in the heart of the Old City
not far from Ananias' house where Paul regained his sight and was baptized.
Old Damascus is a maze of very narrow, twisting and crowded streets. Nuhad
Tomeh, one of our mission personnel who is assigned to the Middle East
Council of Churches, drove us into the Old City through streets that I would
have sworn were not wide enough for the car, let alone the car and all the
After snaking through the streets in what felt to me like going in circles,
we stopped in front of a gate. Some young boys who must have been watching
for us pushed open the gates and we drove into a stone paved courtyard with a
modest but impressive church in the center. After the congestion and clamor
of the Old City, the courtyard seemed like a peaceful oasis.
It was a hot Friday evening but still about 40 members of the church gathered
to welcome us. After a time of coffee, soft drinks and delicious sweet
snacks, we gathered in the sanctuary for dialogue. I had expected a pleasant
time of exchanged greetings. We did exchange greetings, but they had much
more to say. One of the elders graciously led off with words of thanks and
appreciation. He and I had conversed earlier in English, but for his public
comments to me he spoke in Arabic.
After more words of welcome, he paused and with passion spoke eloquently
about the America he knew in the past, the America of FDR, of Harry Truman
and General Patton. He lauded the America that gave the democratic example to
the world, the America of Christian values, the America that he had admired.
Almost plaintively he looked me in the eye and asked, "Why can't you bring
back that America?"
He went on to lament what I came to understand is a common perception held by
Middle Easterners: the USA is seen as an aggressive power unilaterally
invading and occupying nations without cause and a nation that does not
reflect Christian values. At the core of this perception is the absolute
conviction that Israel is pulling the strings and manipulating the USA for
its own benefit.
"Whoa! Wait a minute!" I said in shock to myself. "There's no way Israel
But as others talked, I came to realize that argument was fruitless. Their
perceptions of the USA are to them just as genuine as mine are to me. These
sisters and brothers in Christ were speaking the truth in love to me. Their
worldview is the Arab worldview. Their worldview is shaped by being at a very
different point of the geographic, economic and social spectrum than we in
the USA are. Even so, they spoke in love.
Afterwards, we gathered in the courtyard for conversation and good-byes. They
couldn't have been more loving and hospitable. I marveled at how the feelings
of frustration and anger, very real and deep feelings, did not stand in the
way of being sisters and brothers in Christ. Each of them would welcome me,
or you, into their homes and show us hospitality beyond what we are
accustomed to in our homes.
The Middle East is so full of contradictions.
TEL AVIV: POLITICAL PAWNS
My final interaction in the Middle East was at the Tel Aviv airport as we
waited for the evening flight to Cyprus. A pleasant, middle-aged woman asked
if I would respond to a survey for the Israeli Tourist Bureau. I agreed and
she sat in the vacant seat between Victor and me to open her laptop. I looked
over her shoulder to read the questions as she asked them and watch her
deftly enter the answers.
About two-thirds through the survey she asked about the purpose of my trip.
With my mind full of images of the plight of the Palestinians, I answered,
"To better understand the Palestinian situation."
She keyed in the phrase, "political situation." I said, "No, please enter my
answer, to better understand the Palestinian situation." With rueful glance
at me, she re-keyed the answer and went on pleasantly asking questions.
Having finished with me, she began asking Victor the questions. I continued
reading the paper only to realize shortly that they had stopped on the same
purpose of the trip question. Apparently Victor had given her an answer even
more expansive than mine and she was reluctant to enter it. Just then our
plane was called and I gathered my bag to head for the line.
Rudely I'm afraid, I inserted myself in the woman's conversation with Victor
by asking, "Have you been in the occupied territories?"
"Yes," was the abrupt answer.
"Have you seen what happens to Palestinians at the security check points," I
Another abrupt "Yes."
"Then how do you feel about the treatment of the Palestinians," I wondered.
With fire in her eyes she almost spat the answer in my face, "How do you
expect us to treat people who are determined to kill us!"
Taken aback by her intensity, I headed for the line deflated by the huge
emotional gap that exists in the Middle East. Throughout the ten days, our
encounters with Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis were warm and enriching. On
all subjects but one we found openness and warmth. But on the issue of
Israeli-Palestinian relations the raw emotions consistently overwhelmed me.
So often the situation seems hopeless. But I know, and am here to tell you,
that there are people of faith on both sides working tirelessly for peace in
small but meaningful ways.
I pray every day for the peacemakers in the Middle East. Will you please join
me in that prayer.
(To view the web version of this article which contains three pictures, visit
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