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March 17, 1995 - Image 68

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-03-17

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Announcing the opening of

Praying With
The Enemy

West Bank rabbi seeks common ground
with Hamas sheiks.


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strange bird" was how one
of the hunger strikers de-
scribed his cohort, Rabbi
Menachem Froman.
Rabbi Froman, chief rabbi of
the West Bank settlement of
Tekoa for the last 14 years, is one
of 10 hunger strikers camping out
these days across from the Prime
Minister's Office, calling for the
peace talks with the PLO to be
suspended. Alone among the
strikers, and probably any other
Jew on the West Bank, however,
Rabbi Froman wants Israel to
open negotiations with Hamas.
He has spent "hundreds of hours"
talking with leading sheikhs from
Hamas and other Islamic orga-
A pioneer of the Gush Emunim
religious settler movement, Rab-
bi Froman remains one of the
most respected rabbis in the na-
tional religious camp. After morn-
ing prayers on a recent Friday
outside the hunger strikers' tents,
Rabbi Froman was called on by
the demonstrators to give a shi-
ur, , or religious lesson, which he
based on one of his poems.
On economic issues, he's a so-
cialist. Politically, he favors not
a Palestinian state nor even a
Jewish state, but a "humane
state" with joint Israeli-Pales-
tinian rule over Israel and the
territories. He's working with
Sheikh Abdallah Nimr Darwish,
leader of the nonviolent Islamic
Movement among Israeli Arabs,
to try to set up a college in
Jerusalem where religious Jews
and Muslims could study to-
gether. A strange bird indeed.
At 49, he has a gray beard that
funnels down past his sternum
and gentle, laughing eyes. His
sense of humor is nearly always
on. Asked if he was scared the
first time he talked with Hamas
sheikhs in Gaza, Rabbi Froman
replied: "Well, it's known as a
dangerous place, and you need to
carry a weapon, right? So I wore
His mission, though, is alto-
gether serious. It's based on his
idea that Israelis and Arabs can
never make peace unless the
worlds of Judaism and Islam
reach an understanding. He fa-
vors fighting Hamas militarily
but at the same time offering
them an honorable option for a
After years of making ap-
proaches to Hamas sheikhs
through Egyptian, Palestinian
and Israeli Arab intermediaries,


Rabbi Froman met with Hamas'
spokesman in Gaza, Sheikh Mah-
moud Zahar, in 1990. He also has
met a number of times with
Sheikh Jamil Hamami, founder
of Hamas in the West Bank and
other Palestinian Islamic leaders
he declines to name. (Most of
Rabbi Froman's West Bank in-
terlocutors are currently in jail or
in hiding. Since the Beit Lid mas-
sacre on Jan. 22, Israel has locked
up some 2,000 Hamas and Is-
lamic Jihad activists.)
The meetings usually take
place in the sheikhs' homes in
Gaza. Rabbi Froman brings along
a Tunisian-born, Arabic-speak-
ing rabbi as a translator. The
talks require lengthy contacts
and delicate preparations. Once
the two sides sit down, there are
all sorts of elliptical exchanges
meant to build "chemistry," the
rabbi says.

"I'm a primitive Jew,
and they're
primitive Muslims,
and we have a
common problem."

— Rabbi Menachem Froman

"We start off by praising God.
I say, 'God is great.' Then he says,
`God is strong.' We go on like this
for an hour. Then I say, 'In the
Torah it is written ...' And he
says, 'In the Koran it is written
...' This lasts three hours. Then I
say, 'Our oral tradition holds that
...' And he says, 'Our oral tradi-
tion holds that...' That takes an-
other four hours. All this makes
a good impression," Rabbi Fro-
man said.
He tells the sheikhs that he
and they are not so distant from
each other as it might seem. "I'm
a primitive Jew, and they're
primitive Muslims; and we have
a common problem: How can we
learn to cope with Western cul-
ture, which endangers our exis-
tence? I explain to them the
solutions contemporary Judaism
and religious Zionism came up
with. They have no model like
this in Islam."
While Palestinians do not give
Rabbi Froman any trouble, a few
of the more radical, violent West
Bank settlers have threatened
his life many times. 'They call me

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