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FOCUSED ON RECONCILIATION: Dhynes outside the home built by his great-grandfather.

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Israel | A Palestinian Christian finds a way to be at peace in Jerusalem

Issue: "Mission: Impossible?," Oct. 13, 2007

JERUSALEM-Allyn Dhynes' ancestral home is a two-story stone mansion in booming downtown Jerusalem. It sits on some of the most expensive real estate in the Middle East, just across the street from the iconic King David Hotel, with its fully restored rooms routinely going for more than $300 a night. Nearby, high-rise condominium units a fraction the size of this home sell for more than $1 million.

This part of town Dhynes doesn't see often. In fact, the relief worker with World Vision has never been inside the home built by his great-grandfather, Dimitri Salameh, a Christian businessman whose roots in the region go back 1,000 years. "Mitri," as Dhynes called him, ran Middle East operations for the legendary travel agency Thomas Cook.

Dhynes agrees that the home is "beautiful," and estimates "it's worth millions."

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Millions his family won't see. Dimitri and his wife Salma fled Jerusalem in 1948 along with about 50,000 other Palestinian Christians when the war over Israel's boundaries broke out between Israeli and Arab armies. The conflict displaced 750,000 Palestinians, according to UN estimates, and when Israel closed its borders following the war, it refused reentry to families like Dhynes' and seized the family home. Dimitri died in exile in Lebanon in 1953 at age 83, mourning a home he left behind and the land that had been his family's home for centuries.

Today Dhynes has little time for bitterness, preferring to focus his work with World Vision on community-building, reconciliation, and peacemaking.

"I'm the first one since 1948 to come back," Dhynes said. "It's a bit confusing to some in my family. But I consider it a privilege to be here." He said he makes it his goal to "help bring about reconciliation among all people here in the land. To ask and attempt to answer the question, 'What is the mind and heart of Christ for this place?'"

Many U.S. evangelicals settle that question by supporting the current Israeli government in its present borders. A summer gathering of 4,500 evangelicals in Washington, led by San Antonio pastor John Hagee, for the second annual "Friends of Israel" underscored their view. But days after Hagee's group met, another evangelical group issued a statement pledging support for a "two-state solution"-what the Bush administration wants in current talks-as the only way to create a lasting peace.

Their statement was signed not only by Ron Sider, Tony Campolo, and others on the evangelical left, but also by Leighton Ford-fellow evangelist and brother-in-law of Billy Graham-and Berten Waggoner, director of the charismatic Vineyard USA.

Dhynes prefers not to discuss the politics but to let his actions speak for him, as did another of his ancestors, his grandfather Saba Barniek. Just following the creation of the Jewish state, Barniek, a medical doctor, treated poor and returning Jews in the mornings from an office on the west side of town. In the afternoon he would treat Palestinians on the east, or Arab, side of town.

When a typhoid epidemic broke out in the Galilee region to the north in 1949, Barniek went to help. He treated everyone and as a result was arrested by Israeli forces and imprisoned for two years for aiding the Arab resistance. Quaker missionaries gained his release in 1951. By then all the family had fled to Lebanon, including Dhynes' mother, a little girl who grew up to marry an American working with Mercy Corps in Beirut.

Grandfather Dimitri, Dhynes said, longed to return to Jerusalem, but some people in his family didn't support his own return, with his wife and two small children, to Israel as a Christian worker. As Dhynes stands in front of what was once his family home, fresh-faced teenagers, IDF guards, stand on the nearby street corner in fatigues, laughing but with automatic weapons slung over their shoulders. Since Dhynes moved back to Jerusalem, Palestinian terrorists have bombed buses and killed scores within earshot of the corner. "So many people on both sides have been wronged for so long, that no one wants to be the first to say, 'I forgive you, even if I get nothing in return.'

"That's a great problem. But," he adds with a smile, "it's a great opportunity, too."

Warren Cole Smith
Warren Cole Smith

Warren, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., is vice president of WORLD News Group and the host of the radio program Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

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