Just over a week ago, residents of the Palestinian West Bank village of Beit Fajar witnessed a strange spectacle. Six settler rabbis arrived, greeted city elders, and made their way to the mosque.
Settlers rarely enter Palestinian areas, both because of concern for their safety and because they are not welcome. But the rabbis and the
village elders felt that special times call for special measures.
Earlier in the week, in what is thought to have been an act carried out by extremist settlers, Beit Fajar's mosque had been torched and Hebrew graffiti scrawled on walls. It was the third such attack on a West Bank mosque in the past ten months.
On each occasion, Menachem Froman, rabbi of the settlement of Tekoa, went to the scene of the crime to declare his shame at what had
happened and replace Korans that were damaged.
"I'm not the one who burned them, but I felt responsible in a way for what people in my religion have done," he said after his latest visit. "If a Jew insulted the religion of Islam it is for another Jew to express dignity for the religion of Islam."
Rabbi Froman's visits bring out a rare settler-Palestinian camaraderie. After the first arson attack, Froman chanted in Arabic "Allahu Akbar" which means "God is the greatest", and danced with a Palestinian leader. The visit coincided with Chanucah and he sung an Arabic translation of the Chanucah song Banu Hoshech Legaresh, which means "we came to drive away the darkness".
On his latest visit, two of the West Bank's most influential rabbis accompanied him: Aharon Lichtenstein, head of the Har Etzion yeshivah, which is considered the Cambridge of yeshivot, and Shlomo Riskin, rabbi of the settlement of Efrat.
Rabbi Riskin said that he went to make "a very strong statement that neither our religion nor our God would condone destroying a place of faith of another religion or a holy book of another religion". He wanted to send out a message to settlers and
Palestinians that "religion is a mild voice, above the fray".
Rabbi Lichtenstein said that while he does not harbour any delusions that his visit will eliminate tensions between the two sides, he feels that every act to improve "inter-personal and inter-communal" relations is important.