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Rabbi Menachem Froman’s Unique Legacy of Jewish-Muslim Coexistence

Rabbi Menachem Froman, who died Monday at age 68, was an absolute original. He was a founding member of the hardline settler group Gush Emunim who lived as a settler himself in the Israeli-occupied West Bank; yet he was a man who cultivated contacts with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist organization designated as a terrorist group by Israel and the United States.

Froman, the longtime chief rabbi of the exclusively Jewish West Bank settlement Tekoa, maintained deep friendships with many Palestinians. He had a years-long friendship with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and met several times with Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a founder of Hamas and its spiritual founder.

According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Froman suffered from cancer of the large intestine and is survived by his wife, Hadassah, and 10 children.

Nahum Pachenik, one of Froman’s proteges, lives in a small outpost outside Neve Daniel settlement. Several years ago, he co-founded the organization Eretz Shalom, “a social movement which works toward the advancement of peace and dialogue between the Jewish and Arab inhabitants of Judea and Samaria.”

Nahum and Ziad S, a Palestinian villager who lives a 10-minute drive away but wishes not to be further identified, met through Rabbi Froman. Friends now for more than three years. Pachenik and Ziad meet often at Ziad’s home (although Nahum’s neighbors refuse to let Ziad come to visit his outpost).

Like Froman’s work, the work of these younger West Bank residents confounds most of the prevalent ideologies. While Pachenik, like Froman, says he would be happy living as a minority in a future Palestinian state. But his active friendship with his Palestinian neighbors looks like “one-state thinking” to many Israelis.

Pachenik challenges the one-state vs. two-state dichotomy altogether. The living relationship between Jews and Muslims is most important, he says, because “in this relationship, we can change our heart, our fear…and without that change, every kind of solution—one-state, two-state, three-state, four-state, will fail.”

Ziad says simply, “We want to live together in a good neighborhood.” The way to do that is, “to kill the fear that exists between people,” he says, adding, “The best way to kill the fear is by meeting.”

Pachenik and Ziad have struggled to implement a concrete project built on their shared beliefs. More than a year ago, they began plans for a small organic farm business in the West Bank, run jointly by Palestinians and settlers. They have identified land next to Ziad’s village and assembled a small group of settlers and Palestinians interested in participating. The final step before planting is getting permission from the local Palestinian governor for the project. But in spite of several meetings with the governor, he has given mixed signals. And without official permission, the dangers of starting such a public venture — often criticized as “normalization” by Palestinians–might be too great, especially for the Palestinians involved.

And so Ziad and Nahum persist, on their uneven path towards creating something new on the ground in the West Bank.

Harvey Stein is a video journalist and filmmaker based in Jerusalem. The video accompanying this article is excerpted from “A Third Way,” a feature documentary on which he is working, on the friendships of a small group of settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank. For more excerpts, go here.

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