Israeli Menachem Froman, rabbi of the West Bank Tekoa settlement, at his home February 7, 2006
Israeli settler, rabbi, interfaith campaigner and peace activist Menahem Froman, is pictured at his home on February 7, 2006. Froman died aged 68 on Monday at his home in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa after a two-year struggle with cancer, local media said. © Gali Tibbon - AFP/File
Israeli Menachem Froman, rabbi of the West Bank Tekoa settlement, at his home February 7, 2006
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Michael Blum, AFP
Last updated: March 5, 2013

Rabbi Froman, settler who sought peace with Hamas

Rabbi Menahem Froman, a Jewish settler and peace activist who was laid to rest on Tuesday, was one of the few Israelis to have talked with Hamas, the Islamist group which calls for Israel's destruction.

The 68-year-old rabbi of Tekoa settlement near Bethlehem, who died Monday after a two-year battle with cancer, was an ardent advocate of peace and was convinced that an agreement with the Islamist Hamas movement was possible, through mutual religious understanding.

A poet and father of 10 who was known for his long, white wispy beard and infectious laugh, Froman dreamed of peaceful coexistence with his Palestinian neighbours.

"Rabbi Froman was like a brother," said Ibrahim Abu al-Hawa, a Palestinian friend attending his funeral at the hilltop settlement.

In a message read out to thousands of mourners, among them several cabinet ministers, Israeli President Shimon Peres wrote that the late rabbi "was a great believer in scripture and a great believer in peace."

"He saw everyone as a friend," Peres wrote, while Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon eulogised him as "a visionary."

Froman believed that Israel and the Palestinians were in a unique position to be able to bridge the growing chasm between Islamic and Western civilisations.

"The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an expression of the conflict between Western and Islamic civilisations. It is not just a problem for the two tiny nations living here but for the entire world," he once told AFP in an interview.

"Our role in the world is to bridge that gap."

Over the past 35 years, Froman went to unusual lengths in his personal quest for peace, meeting with an array of Palestinian figures, including the late Yasser Arafat and Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was assassinated by Israel in March 2004.

More recently, Froman met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan shortly after a deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in May 2010 which left nine Turkish activists dead and sparked a bitter diplomatic rift between the two countries.

But his overtures towards the Palestinians and other figures considered hostile to Israel have earned him the hatred of some of his fellow settlers, who have variously denounced him as "crazy" or a "traitor".

Yet he was far from naive about Hamas and those who would go on to found the radical movement some 25 years ago.

During the 1930s, his uncle was shot dead by Ezzedine al-Qassam, a militant Palestinian cleric who fought the British during the Mandate years and whose name was later adopted by Hamas's armed wing.

Ironically, the murder saw the British giving Froman's father permission to enter Palestine at a time when they were allowing very few Jews in, meaning that unlike most of the family, his father managed to escape the Nazi Holocaust.

Froman was the driving force behind Eretz Shalom (Hebrew for "Land of Peace"), a settler peace movement which promotes dialogue and coexistence with its Palestinian neighbours.

The group rejects settler violence and is known for paying solidarity visits to West Bank mosques hit by vandalism by suspected Jewish extremists.

The silver-haired rabbi made no secret of the fact that he would happily continue living in Tekoa even when it became part of a Palestinian state.

A teacher in various Talmudic religious institutions, he advocated a Judaism that was Orthodox while remaining open to the secular world.

He was also very active in inter-faith dialogue and set up meetings which brought together rabbis with various Christian, Muslim and Buddhist leaders.

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