You can tell how desperate events have become on the West Bank (after this week’s settler pogrom in Hebron) when the N.Y. Times opens its pages to Rabbi Menachem Froman. It comes about three years or so (that’s when I first wrote about him) late, but better late than never.
Froman was the co-founder of Gush Emunim, the gold standard and first-movers of the settler movement. Somewhere along the way, perhaps the extremist hilltop youth might say, he “went native.” He became buddies with the despised (by Israeli Jews) Yasser Arafat, partnered with a Hamas-affiliated journalist with whom he devised a peace plan, and founded Jerusalem Peacemakers, an interfaith clergy group seeking to find a way to share Jerusalem among all its religions.
Instead of being at the forefront of building new settlements as he once was, he is now the target of the Shin Bet who sabotages his every effort to publicize his joint peace efforts with Palestinians.
But he is still a settler, and now chief rabbi of the settlement of Tekoa, where he has lived for the past 35 years. The difference between 1967 and now is that now Froman is perfectly prepared to live on the West Bank under Palestinian sovereignty. As such, he presents a potent model of what could be if Israel ever cedes the Territories to a new Palestinian state. Those who truly believe in the original settler spiritual dream of having Jews return to dwell in the Judean hills among the holy sites should be able to realize that dream no matter whether they are ruled by Israel or Palestine.
Froman’s dream presents a challenge as well to the Palestinians. If they are ever to realize a state that is truly democratic it must be able to integrate fully Jews (and Christians). They must show that they are willing to co-exist with Jews like Froman. That is why Hamas and Arafat before it, saw Froman in such a favorable light.
Israelis normally might dismiss him merely as a dreamer, traitor, sell-out or lunatic. But they cannot because of his exalted status as founder of the settler movement. He is certainly a curiosity to the settlers and other Israelis who cannot really figure him out. But they cannot plant a bomb outside his home as they did to Prof. Zeev Sternhell, a long-time crusader against the settlers.
Many Israelis simply do not know what to make of a rabbi and settler willing to engage in a close relationship with someone they view as a fanatical terrorist. Willing to talk with Ahmed Yassin? Even to tell him off? The idea would be anathema to Israelis:
Rabbi Froman used to travel to Gaza for talks with Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas who was killed in an Israeli missile strike in 2004…
The rabbi said he used to shout at the sheik and tell him, “you will go to hell because you are taking Islam, a religion whose name has connotations of peace, and turning it into a religion of terror.”
The sheik would reply that he was only defending himself, Rabbi Froman said.
Isabel Kershner notes in her article that Tekoah was also the birthplace of the fiery prophet of social justice, Amos. What Israel needs these days is a lot more Amoses like Froman and a lot less of those who try to immolate Palestinian families in their homes as happened last week in Hebron. May God bless Rabbi Froman and may his efforts be fruitful and multiply.