Rabbi living in the West Bank who sought peace




1945 - 4-3-2013

Menachem Froman, an Orthodox rabbi who helped lead settlers into the territory that Israel seized in its 1967 war with Arab nations, then became a fervent, startlingly unconventional voice for conciliation with the Palestinians, has died at 68 in Tekoa in the Israeli-administered West Bank.

Froman was a founder of Gush Emunim, the messianic settlement movement that sprang up after Israel's conquest of the West Bank. He became chief rabbi of the settlement of Tekoa, the ancestral home of the prophet Amos.

His grand, unrealised vision was that the enmity between the settlers and their Palestinian neighbours could be erased by appeals to religious ideals. He carried his message to hosts of Muslim sheikhs and met for hours in repeated visits with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Hamas chieftains Ahmed Yassin and Mahmoud al-Zahar. He also huddled with Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during Israel's battle with Hamas last November.

It did not faze Froman that few of the 3000 residents of Tekoa agreed with him, nor that he was once threatened with expulsion from the town.

Froman spoke out against attacks by Jewish settlers on mosques, and he often visited damaged holy sites with Palestinian officials. He started peace organisations and frequently appeared in the Palestinian news media.

He stood solidly with the most right-wing settlers in his refusal to leave the land he said he had come to love, calling it sacred to him and his people. Unlike most other settlers, though, he insisted that he would be comfortable continuing to live in Tekoa even if, through a peace agreement, it became part of a Palestinian state. At present, Israel claims the right to administer the West Bank.

Froman said he wanted to turn the discussion away from land and politics to God; the commonalities between monotheistic Judaism and Islam were great, and the two traditions had co-existed for long periods of history, he pointed out. Contested land, he said, could become consecrated land.

Menachem Froman was born in Galilee in 1945 when Britain governed the territory. He was one of the original settlers of Tekoa, a community of religious and non-religious Jews centred on a school run by his wife, Hadassah, who survives him, as do his 10 children. He went to high school in Haifa, served in the paratroopers during the 1967 war and gradually became more religious.

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