A group of American blacks flew home today after briefly confronting the harsh realities of Middle East strife.
They conferred with Palestinian guerrilla leader Yasser Arafat, but were snubbed by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Began, and their pleas to both Israelis and Palestinians for nonviolence seemed to fall on deaf ears.
The 10-member Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) delegation, invited to Beirut by the Palestine Liberation Organization and received by Lebanese leaders, expressed "outrage" at Lebanon's suffering and destruction and condemned Israel's use of U.S.-made weapons.
Wrapping up the delegates' four-day visit, during which they toured Palestinian refugee camps and war-damaged Lebanese villages, SCLC President Rev. Joseph Lowery told a news conference: "To our outrage, evidence of the use of American weapons on nonmilitary targets was unmistakable."
Lowery said that "savage and destructive bombing has turned villages into refugee camps, and because of continued bombings the camps have become ghost towns."
A Palestinian spokesman, Mahmoud Labadi, who sat in on a four-hour closed meeting of the delegation with Arafat, said the SCLC officials reiterated their message for peaceful coexistence in the Middle East and asked the PLO leader for a "three-month moratorium on violence."
Labadi said Arafat promised his guests that their request would "receive serious consideration." However, Labadi said the guerrilla leader insisted that "they [Israelis] are the terrorists and we are the victims."
A Palestinian guerrilla, who asked not to be identified, said the group's request was "unfair" and a little "out of place." He stressed that the Palestinians in Lebanon were being shelled every day and have been driven from their homeland.
"Asking for a moratorium on violence is equivalent to a request for a moratorium on Palestinian resistance," he said.
One of the leaders of the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Bassam Abu Sherif, said, "If the Palestinian people would be allowed to go back to their homeland and to regain their property and self-determination in Palestine, the reasons for violence will cease to exist."
The SCLC group, which included D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy, made a point of condemning both PLO and Israeli violence.
"We deplore violence wherever it occurs, whether it's a bomb from an aircraft in southern Lebanon or a bomb in a garbage can in Jerusalem," Fauntroy said.
The group also met with Lebanese President Elias Sarkis, Prime Minister Selim Hoss and Foreign Minister Fuad Boutros. After missing a first appointment with Boutros, a Christian, and sparking criticism of the group from Christian newspapers and officials, the SCLC team arranged for another meeting and went even further by meeting with Christian Phalangist Party leader Pierre Gemayel.
PLO spokesman Labadi said he expected the group's impressions here to have some impact on black religious groups in the United States. The invitation of the blacks came as part of a series of PLO overtures to the West and efforts to improve its image.
When asked what he thought would come out of Arafat's meeting with the group, however, an old Palestinian distributing Turkish coffee and tea to waiting journalists said, "These few Americans are not going to liberate Palestine."