Religious Peacebuilding

For decades, international political actors – such as diplomats and heads of state – have sought to mediate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an attempt to resolve, or at least manage it. In parallel to these official actors, there is another category of mediators which can be referred to as “insider mediators.” In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, insider religious mediators are religious leaders who attempt to advance a warm ‘religious peace’ and mitigate crisis situations as they arise.

International Political Mediation

U.S. mediation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict grew out of American mediation of Israeli-Arab agreements. It was shaped by a state-centered paradigm which was conceived to generate diplomatic agreement between governments. The role of mediation was seen as consisting of five tasks: (1) establishing contact when the parties cannot afford to declare it at the beginning of the process, (2) exploring positions to determine the existing amount of convergence and set an attainable target, (3) providing necessary persuasion, pressure and incentives, (4) suggesting bridging solutions, and (5) providing credible guarantees for implementation.1 Ezzedine Choukri-Fishere, Against Conventional Wisdom: Mediating the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, 2008.

The agreements consolidated the cessation of hostilities and laid the ground for future peace talks. High-level U.S. mediation was critical for success. At first, after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, through U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy, the U.S. mediated both Israeli-Egyptian and Israeli-Syrian disengagement agreements. The agreements consolidated the cessation of hostilities and laid the ground for future peace talks. After failing to convene direct negotiations between Israel and all its Arab neighbors through an international conference, a breakthrough was achieved in bilateral Israeli-Egyptian negotiations, which enjoyed a boost from Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem.

Egyptian President Sadat’s visit to Israel (1977)

However, only after 13 days of active mediation by U.S. President Jimmy Carter at Camp David did President Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin sign the Camp David Accords (1978). And the following year it was only after President Carter shuttled for two weeks between Cairo and Jerusalem did the parties reach the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty (1979).

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (left) and U.S. National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (right) (Wikimedia, 1973)

However, U.S. mediators underestimated the considerable criticism these agreements would encounter regionally, in Egypt and Israel. Egypt’s regional standing took a major blow and it was consequently expelled from the Arab League, and the Egyptian public evinced great difficulty in accepting recognition of Israel. In Israel, Gush Emunim, the pro-settler religious Zionist movement led by Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, opposed the agreement, both because it included the evacuation of Israeli settlements from Sinai and approved of Palestinian autonomy on lands Judaism deems divinely promised to the Jewish people. Nevertheless, the very success signaled by the signing of these agreements, as the most powerful Arab country and Israel ended the state of warfare between them, created in Washington D.C. a sense that high-level U.S. brokering of bilateral negotiations is the most efficacious peacemaking route.

Seeking to build on these successes and mediate Israeli-Palestinian agreements, the U.S. first had to also establish relations with the Palestinian side. Though the Camp David Accord included a commitment to establish an elected Palestinian self-governing authority, Israel initially refused to engage with the PLO and the U.S. refused to do so without Israel’s approval. Many mediation efforts, including by European states, focused on creating dialogue between the U.S. and the PLO. In 1988, the U.S. accepted that the PLO met three conditions – recognizing Israel’s right to exist, accepting UN Resolution 242 and renouncing terrorism – and the two entered political dialogue.

New York Times front page December 15, 1988

This political dialogue allowed the U.S. to cooperate with Russia and convene in 1991 in Madrid a comprehensive peace conference, involving all relevant Arab countries. Due to Israel’s rejection of the PLO, a non-PLO Palestinian delegation attended as part of the Jordanian one. In the Madrid Conference all the attending countries formally accepted UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 as a basis for future agreements, laying a foundation for territorial partition as the guiding principle with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

With Israel considering the PLO a terrorist organization, high-profile U.S. attempts failed to capitalize on the newfound relationship with the PLO. Norway discreetly opened a secret communication channel between Israel and the PLO, which guided the parties toward crafting a declaration of principles which would serve as a basis for future peace agreements and provide bridging proposals to support the talks. When the parties reached agreement in 1993, Norway handed the process to the U.S. so that it would use its greater resources to chaperon it further. The Declaration of Principles’ signing ceremony took place in the U.S.. This progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track opened the door for the U.S. to support Israeli-Jordanian negotiations, which concluded in 1994 with the signing of a peace agreement between the two countries.

The U.S. subsequently brokered a series of Israeli-Palestinian agreements between 1994 and 1999, leading to Palestinian self-rule with the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and the launching of a five-year process consisting of a gradual expansion of the areas in which it operated. Egypt and Jordan acted as supporting mediators throughout these years, helping the U.S. secure consent from both Israel and the PLO on a large variety of issues. The outcomes were, however, a mixed bag. Many in both societies strongly opposed the agreements. In particular, Hamas and other Palestinian factions perpetrated violent attacks against Israelis. And religious Zionists ratcheted up their settlement construction efforts in order to prevent partition and limit the scope of concessions the Israeli government could offer.

U.S. mediation failed to offer remedy to the opposition of these mostly non-liberal religious constituencies.2 Ofer Zalzberg, Beyond Liberal Peacemaking: Lessons from Israeli-Palestinian Diplomatic Peacemaking, Review of Middle East Studies, Issue 53, Volume 1, 2019.U.S. administrations tended to consider these groups “irrational” and “fundamentalist”, posting they, therefore, can only be defeated, revealing the administration’s’ own statist and liberal biases. The statist bias was manifested in the U.S. mediator’s engagement primarily only with governments. The interests and values of communities and groups which were not represented by these governments were ignored.

Because for the most part the Israeli and Palestinian governments at the time had a mostly materialistic and secular approach, this exclusion was arguably most pronounced with respect to two kinds of constituencies: those committed to the so-called identity-related core issues of the conflict since 1948 (e.g. Israel’s Jewish character, the status of Israel’s Arab-Palestinian minority and refugee rights) and non-liberal national-religious populations (notably non-liberal religious Zionists and Hamas). The U.S. mediator’s secular, liberal bias, shared to an extent by that of the Israeli Labor Party and the Palestinian Fatah party which were in power for much of the 1990s, was evinced in the basic premises of the U.S. brokered interim agreements. The agreements assumed a correlation between the advancement of human rights, free markets, liberal democracy and international law, on the one hand, and, on the other, the promotion of peace. The 1990s were the heyday of liberal peacemaking, and U.S. policies were promoted, sometimes unconsciously, based on a sense that liberalism has won the day and should be promoted along with peace. However, many ultra-Orthodox Jews and religious Zionists, as well as so called Palestinian “Islamists,” have perceived the Oslo process since the 1990s as an attempt to advance international law at the expense of their respective religious laws, the Halacha and the Sharia. Similarly, the liberal utopia of a conflict-ending distributive compromise, clashed with religious visions and eschatologies which maintained that the land is sacred and therefore indivisible. Indeed, among the major reasons for the failure of these agreements to win broad, durable support in both societies was the omission of the land’s sanctity in the eyes of to large parts of both societies.

Apprehensive of the growing opposition to the peace process, mindful of the original five-year deadline and keen to win over adversaries of the process by disproving their claims of intractability, U.S. mediation shifted in the year 2000 toward attempting to broker a comprehensive, conflict-ending Israeli- Palestinian peace agreement. The U.S. mediators helped Israel and the PLO learn of each other’s positions on the so-called hardest issues of discord and ultimately President Clinton offered bridging proposals for addressing each of them in a conflict-ending agreement: borders, security, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem. The talks failed to give birth to an agreement. Worse, disappointment from the failure and acerbic mutual accusations for it provided the breeding ground for a major escalation, known as the Second Intifada.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (left), President Bill Clinton, and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat at the Camp David Summit (2000)

International attempts to curb the mounting violence erupting from the Second Intifada (2000) signaled a shift from conflict resolution to conflict management and from exclusive U.S. mediation to a U.S.-led coalition of international mediators. In order to end the violence, the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and Russia formed the International Quartet. Their jointly proposed violence mitigation efforts were codified as the first of three phases of the “Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”. The second, transitory phase included an optional agreement between Israel and a Palestinian state with provisional borders a third phase called for a permanent status agreement. The process failed to complete even its first phase and the Second Intifada lasted until 2005.

From the perspective of mediation, one lasting outcome of the process has been the United States Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority (USSC), established with the stated aim of meeting U.S. commitments under the Roadmap.3 The USSC coordinates with the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to enhance security cooperation; leads coalition efforts in advising the Palestinian Authority on security sector reform; and recommends opportunities for nations and international organizations to contribute to the development of a self- sustaining Palestinian security sector.The USSC effectively fosters Israeli-Palestinian security coordination brokering understandings between the security apparatuses of both parties. In addition, the position of a Quartet Envoy was established, creating a point-person who could mediate as a representative of the members of the International Quartet between Israel and the PLO. The envoy’s initial focus was Israel’s Gaza disengagement but it later grew to broader conflict management and conflict resolution. With the years, the Quartet established a robust Office, conducting low-level mediation between the parties.4 OQR Office, as part of its objective to “support the Palestinian people to build the institutions and economy of a viable, peaceful state in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem”, coordinates between Israel and the PA regarding Energy, Water, Rule of Law, Movement & Trade, Telecommunication and Economic Mapping.

The Quartet – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union Catherine Ashton – met in Moscow. They were joined by Quartet Representative Tony Blair (The Quartet, 2010)

Given the sense of Israeli-Palestinian intractability, the U.S. shifted to coordinating with Israel unilateral acts which it deemed aligned with a two-state vision. With President George W. Bush’s blessing, Israel unilaterally withdrew all its settlements from the Gaza Strip and from a small area in the north of the West Bank. The U.S.-Israeli decision to advance such a step without coordination with the Palestinian leadership, allowed Hamas to convincingly claim among Palestinians that it was its military actions which forced Israel’s withdrawal and that its violent strategy can more effectively promote Palestinian liberation. This boosted Hamas’ popularity, contributing to its victory over Fatah in Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006.

President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the White House (White House Archives, 2004)

Once Hamas got to power in Gaza through a military coup in June 2007, mediators faced a need to coordinate with a new governmental entity. Most western governments were unable to do so because of Hamas’ listing as a terrorist organization. Two western countries, Switzerland and Norway, did enter the role of third-party mediation, shuttling discreetly between Gaza, Jerusalem and Ramallah on a variety of issues. The Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator (UNSCO) initially played a similar liaison role regarding Gaza, which expanded to mediating ceasefires, humanitarian aid and stabilization, particularly in recent years. Egypt, the Gaza Strip’s southern neighbor, also found itself in the role of a mediator between Israel and Hamas.

However, being an interested party, and having direct control over Gaza’s southern border and adjacent maritime areas, Egypt has been a different kind of mediator – one which both enjoys more levers over the parties and yet is also susceptible to pressure from them. With the exception of the period in which Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi (a member of the the Muslim Brotherhood) in Cairo, Egypt engaged with Hamas solely through its intelligence service, in order to avoid granting it legitimacy in the process. Two former heads of state, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, have taken advantage of the greater maneuvering room which non-governmental mediation allows in order to engage with Hamas’ leadership toward the broader aim of conflict resolution. They met regularly, directly and indirectly, with Hamas leaders, exploring among other things what context and understandings would be necessary for Hamas to abide by the outcome of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, or even take part in them. These and other non-governmental mediation efforts have been ongoing since, but government-led mediation to date failed to effectively leverage them.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter sits with Ismail Haniyeh, head of Gaza’s Hamas government, during their meeting in Gaza City (Ashraf Amra/AP Photo, 2009)

U.S. mediation shifted back to pursuing conflict resolution, starting with the Annapolis Process (2007-2008), in which Israel and the PLO tried again to strike an end-of-claims agreement. After the bloody and ruinous years of the Second Intifada, the political context was extremely negative, and the odds of diplomatic success seemed so low. Moreover, the division of the Palestinian arena between the PA-ruled West Bank and the Hamas-ruled Gaza, led the U.S. mediator to support the quest for a “shelf-agreement”, i.e. one which would be signed and then shelved until conditions allowed its implementation. Consequently, opposition efforts were less sizable and palpable than those of the 1990s.

The Annapolis Summit (2007-2008)

However, Annapolis failed to conclude an agreement. Mediators then shifted their aim to merely reaching accord on broad-stroke principles. Efforts by U.S. Envoy George Mitchell (2009-2011) and Secretary of State John Kerry (2013-2014) were different in seeking to elicit agreement only on core principles (an “agreed-upon frame of reference”) rather than a fully negotiated treaty, but similar both paradigmatically and in terms of their outcome: failing to achieve consent around the core conflict issues, let alone from non-liberal religious constituencies.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (first from left), U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (second from left), Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (third from left), and U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George C. Mitchell (fourth from left) chat after their meeting in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt (State Department photo, 2010)

In the face of persistent intractability, mediators increasingly employed coercive diplomacy in order to compel one of the parties to accept specific parameters for resolution. The Obama Administration allowed the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 in order to reaffirm and consolidate a legal international consensus regarding the 1967 lines as the basis for the borders between Israel and the future state of Palestine. The resolution sought to exact a cost for Israeli settlement construction by calling upon all states “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”. For the Israeli Right, most considered this resolution to be negating Jewish attachments to Judea and Samaria.

After the United States chose to abstain from the vote, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 2334 (Jane Lane/European Lane, 2016)

The Trump administration increased diplomatic coercion, but directed it at Palestinians. Economically, the Trump administration employed both carrots and sticks: it both ended direct U.S. support to Palestinians (through USAID and UNRWA) and, at the Bahrain Conference, offered a major financial package in favor of the Palestinians to support the Trump ‘Peace to Prosperity’ Plan. Substantively, the Trump administration established U.S. positions in a manner favoring Israeli policies, notably by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and taking the position that Israeli settlements are not illegal according to international law.

The Bahrain Conference (2019)

The Trump administration also presented a detailed peace plan advocating a “realistic two-state solution”, offering Palestinians far less than had been the international consensus until then and much less than the PLO declared to be its minimum positions. The entire set of moves was vehemently rejected by Palestinians, both from the PLO and Hamas, who deemed the U.S. positions a fundamental transgression of both Palestinian nationalism, which accords paramount status to Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa Mosque, and Islamic jurisprudence, which in some interpretations precludes permanent partition of the land. Tellingly, Torani Religious Zionist Israelis similarly rejected the Trump Plan, despite its obvious favoring of Israeli interests over Palestinian ones, on account of its approval of permanent territorial partition which their interpretation of Judaism prohibits.

Palestinians holding flags of Palestine, march to protest against the Trump peace plan on (Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency, 2020)  


(by Daniel Roth)


For decades, international political actors – such as diplomats and heads of state – have sought, often with little success, to mediate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an attempt to resolve or at least manage it. Yet, parallel to these international efforts, there is another, often overlooked, power structure that nonetheless wields significant clout within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and can be referred to as ‘insider religious mediation.’ Insider religious mediators are well-connected members of religious communities, often religious leaders, who attempt to advance a ‘warm’ peace and mitigate crisis situations as they arise. This article will explore the questions: What does insider religious mediation in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict look like in practice? How does it work? Who are the religious leaders who have been serving in this capacity? And what are some of the key milestones and case studies of this often overlooked, behind-the-scenes religious peace process?

What is ‘Insider Religious Mediation’?

The United Nations Development Programme defines an insider mediator as “an individual or group of individuals who derive their legitimacy, credibility, and influence from a socio-cultural and/or religious – and indeed, personal – closeness to the parties of the conflict, endowing them with strong bonds of trust that help foster the necessary attitudinal changes amongst key protagonists which, over time, prevent conflict and contribute to sustaining peace.”5 Cited in United Nations Development Programme. Engaging with Insider Mediators – Sustaining peace in an age of turbulence, 27 Apr. 2020, p. 7.

In their 2016 report “Support to Insider Mediation,” the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) notes that insider mediators, as opposed to outsider mediators, “may be rooted in resources from the local culture and also from religion” and are often, therefore, religious leaders or authorities, that their “legitimacy and effectiveness to mediate is not necessarily based on impartiality but on partiality and closeness to the context,” and, finally, that their “crucial advantage” is their “closeness or access to some of the conflict parties that no one else can reach out to, especially radical, hard-to-reach and armed actors.”6 Mubashir, M., E. Morina, and L. Vimalarajah. “OSCE Support to Insider Mediation: Strengthening mediation capacities, networking, and complementarity,” Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, 2016, p. 28.

Insider Religious Mediation in the Context of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Insider religious mediation does not mean advancing people-to-people grassroots religious peacebuilding programs or even necessarily engaging religious leaders in facilitated dialogue groups (though they may give their support to these important activities). Rather, it functions as a channel of mediation alongside the formal governmental mediation process, working to connect the very stakeholders whose worldviews have traditionally collided and who have rejected the various political peace processes. They do not seek to replace the formal political process, however. Rather, they help ensure religion no longer serves as a barrier to peace7 See Bar-Siman-Tov, Yaacov, editor. “Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies – Study no. 406: Barriers to Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, 2010.but instead as a critical bridge to a ‘warm’ peace, meaning a peace between religious leaders and their communities who see each other as neighbors and partners and not enemies. This model of mediation is in line with traditional religious models of third-party mediation and deviates strongly from modern Western forms of professional mediation.8 For more on the difference between traditional and religious models of mediation versus modern Western models, see Roth, Daniel. Third-Party Peacemakers in Judaism: Text, Theory, and Practice, Oxford University Press, 2021, pp. 21-36.

Insider religious mediators seek to engage more senior and often more extreme religious and political leaders or stakeholders who have significant influence over worldviews that have come into conflict. Through an ever-expanding network of deeply trusted relationships, they arrange discreet and intimate meetings with these stakeholders. These meetings may take place in Israel, the Palestinian territories, or abroad, such as in Istanbul, Athens, Oslo, etc.

They always address the political reality at hand, whether it be a change in the current political climate, a particular crisis situation, or an opportunity to introduce a new leader into their intimate network of relationships. Meetings can range from just a few people to as many as fifteen or twenty, each participant simultaneously serving as a religious leader and potentially as an insider mediator.

For example, a meeting may take place between an Islamic-Palestinian insider mediator and a more senior Islamic leader. They may discuss, among other topics, the possibility of introducing the senior Islamic leader to other trusted partners within the insider mediator network, such as a Jewish-Israeli insider mediator, who is himself a representative religious leader of the ‘other side.’ The more senior that the leader being approached is, the more likely several other insider religious mediators will attend the meeting, each one bringing to the room their own reputation and connections. These insider religious mediators often do not see themselves and certainly do not introduce themselves as ‘mediators,’ but rather as religious leaders. Usually, it is the more junior religious leader who actively wears the label of ‘mediator,’ going back and forth between superiors to help weave together the network of relationships.

What is ‘religious peace’?

Religious peace is a warm peace. It is often contrasted with secular or political peace. Political peace may be understood as consisting of a peace agreement negotiated and signed by (primarily) secular politicians, often with a liberal worldview, and based on tangible interests (i.e., economics, demographics, security, natural resources, etc.). In contrast, religious peace is achieved on a foundation of shared core religious values and beliefs—for example, the belief, as articulated by Rabbi Michael Melchior, that “we are all created by and in the image of the same God” and “that crushing the other is crushing the Divine in the other.” This kind of shared core belief is one of several, says Rabbi Melchior, that “are part of the fabric of the peace.”9 Melchior, Michael. “Establishing a Religious Peace.”In Kronish, Ron. Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel, Paulist Press, 2015, p. 122. See also p.37 of this volume.Among other things, religious peace includes a signed written agreement that seeks to ‘resolve the conflict.’ Religious peace is discussed, and its catalyzing decisions are deliberated by senior (often illiberal) influential religious leaders and is based on deep religious convictions regarding the theology and religious law possessed by each side.10 See Zalzberg, Ofer. “Beyond Liberal Peacemaking: Lessons from Israeli-Palestinian Diplomatic Peacemaking.” Review of Middle East Studies, 53(1), 2019, pp. 46-53.

Religious peace does not mean that religious authorities have necessarily offered their support or ‘permission’ to a secular political peace process (as was common in the 1990s). Rather, it means seeing the very enterprise of peace (Shalom in Hebrew/Salam in Arabic) as the fulfilment of a religious obligation, and for some, as part of a prophetic mission and divine destiny – and not as an abrogation or compromise of one’s religious beliefs. The necessity for advancing religious peace in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict stems from the understanding that the conflict is not only a dispute between two national identities over scarce resources that can be divided up fairly through interest-based problem solving, but is also a collision of worldviews, in particular, those of religious Muslims – as represented by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad – and those of right-wing Torani religious Zionist Jews—who live over the Green Line, and strongly support the settlement movement.

According to these worldviews, the conflict is not just a real estate dispute that can be solved ‘rationally’ but concerns a God-given holy land that is undividable and whose material fate has cosmic consequences. The conflict is also deeply grounded in how each religious tradition sees the other through their religious worldview (how Jews are portrayed in Islamic texts and Gentiles in Jewish texts). Outsider governmental mediators have very little understanding of these core religious issues behind the conflict (besides, perhaps, how they manifest in Jerusalem) and have no means of engaging them constructively.

Only religious leaders serving as insider religious mediators – who have a deep understanding of the religious worldviews in question and possess strong ties to the most influential representatives of these views – are able to manifest a peace that includes these religious worldviews, as opposed to a ‘secular’ one that is predicated on their exclusion. Only the activity of such mediators has the potential for expanding what may be referred to as the ‘tent of peace.’11 For more about the concept of the ‘tent of peace,’ see Melchior, Michael. “Opening the Tent of Peace.” In Overland, G. et al., editors. Violent Extremism in the 21st Century: International Perspectives, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2018, pp. 447-452.

A Timeline of Insider Religious Mediation in the Context of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

A Timeline of Insider Religious Mediation in the Context of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Since the beginning of the First Intifada in the late 1980s and even more so from the onset of the political peace process in the early 1990s, there have been a handful of religious leaders who function as insider religious mediators, informally and discreetly working together. Perhaps the earliest example of such insider religious mediators working together to mitigate a crisis- situation occurred in the context of Hamas’s abduction of Israeli soldier Nachshon Wachsman in October 1994. Following the kidnapping, Wachsman’s parents turned to Rabbi Menachem Froman to see if he could speak with his acquaintances in Hamas (through his connections with Sheikh Abdullah Nimer Darwish) and try to reach an agreement to release their son. Rabbi Froman related in an interview12 “Rabbi Froman: Hamas is more willing to compromise than the PLO” (interview), Channel 7, 23 Aug. 2008, years later that he had reached a telephone agreement with Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior figure in the Hamas political leadership, according to which Nachshon Wachsman would be released in return for the release of the Hamas religious and political leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin from Israeli prison. However, when this agreement reached the desk of then Israeli Prime Minister (PM) Yitzhak Rabin, Rabin replied that he “does not make deals with the Hamas. (Wachsman was later killed by his hostage-takers in a failed attempt by Israeli special forces to free him).

Throughout the 1990s, Rabbi Froman and Sheikh Abdullah continued to approach senior religious and political leaders in efforts to include them in the concept of religious peace. Prof. Hillel Cohen, an Israeli scholar who studies and writes about Jewish-Arab relations in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, related in his eulogy for Rabbi Froman that, in 1996, Rabbi Froman worked out an agreement with senior Hamas leaders which would have brought about a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel as well as the release of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin.13 Zedekiah, Eran. “תמימי דעה ותמימי דרך“, [“Agree and Agree”], RegThink: The Regional Thinking Forum, 3 Oct. 2013,, at the exact time that Israel, under PM Benjamin Netanyahu, was supposed to be reviewing the terms of the draft agreement, the Mossad (Israeli special services) carried out a failed assassination attempt on the Hamas leader Khaled Mashal in Jordan. The end result: Israel was forced to accept far less favorable terms than those agreed upon with Rabbi Froman for the release of Sheikh Yassin. In 1997, after the release of Sheikh Yassin, Rabbi Froman went to Gaza to meet him once again and deliver a letter from the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, regarding advancing a religiously sanctioned, long-term ceasefire. Rabbi Froman was met there by two other insider religious mediators, Sheikh Abdullah and Sheikh Faluji.14 “Gaza: Orthodox Rabbi Takes Message from Bakshi-Doron to Yassin,” YouTube, uploaded by AP Archive, 21 Jul. 2015,, these early attempts of insider religious mediation were not taken seriously by the Israeli government or by the international community and were strongly opposed by members of Rabbi Froman’s own religious Zionist community.

Since the beginning of the First Intifada in the late 1980s and even more so from the onset of the political peace process in the early 1990s, there have been a handful of religious leaders who began functioning as ‘insider religious mediators’ informally and discreetly working together, in particular Rabbi Menachem Froman and Sheikh Abdullah Nimer Darwish. Perhaps the earliest example of religious leaders serving as insider religious mediators attempting to work together to mitigate a crisis situation occurred in the context of the abduction of the Israeli soldier, Nachshon Wachsman in October 1994.

Following the kidnapping, Wachsman’s parents turned to Rabbi Froman to see if he could speak with his acquaintances in Hamas (through his connections with Sheikh Abdullah) and try to reach an agreement to release their son. Rabbi Froman, related in an interview many years later that he had reached a telephone agreement with Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior figure in the Hamas political leadership, according to which Nachshon Wachsman would be released in return for the release of Hamas religious and political leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin (1937 – 2004) from Israeli prison. However, when this agreement reached the hands of the Israeli prime minister at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, he replied that he (Rabin) does not make deals with Hamas. Wachsman was later killed by his hostage takers in a failed special forces attempt to free him. In an interview with Sheikh Abdullah in Haaretz (February 12, 1995), he also related how he had attempted to mediate between Hamas and Israel in various incidents, such as the abduction of Nachshon Wachsman, and how he had called upon Hamas to spare the lives of soldiers.

Kidnapping of Nachshon Wechsam (Videopedia, 1994)

In January 2002, the first major public gathering of senior religious leaders organized by insider religious mediators took place: The Alexandria Summit of the Religious Leaders of the Holy Land. The primary insider religious leaders who helped make this happen were Rabbi Melchior (drawing on his influence both as a religious leader and, at the time, as Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister), Rabbi Froman, Cannon Andrew White (the Archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy to the Middle East), and Sheikh Talal Sider (an Islamic religious and political leader from Hebron who was initially one of the founders of Hamas and later a minister in the Palestinian Authority).15 Sheikh Talal Sider, who testified that his own change of heart was a result of his many meetings with Rabbi Froman fell ill shortly after the summit and ultimately passed away in 2007. Rabbi Melchior described him as “a senior and full partner to attempts to persuade the leaders of the three faiths to turn religion into a lever for peace, brotherhood and hope.” See Landau, Yehezkal. Healing the Holy Land: Interreligious Peacebuilding in Israel/Palestine, United States Institute of Peace, 2003, p. 17, and Melchior, Michael. “Islam of a Different Kind,” Haaretz, 5 Mar. 2007,

These religious mediators convened senior religious leaders for the first-ever religious peace summit to be held in the Middle East. The summit, despite taking place in the midst of the Second Intifada, received the endorsement16 Hranjski, Hrvoje. “Religious Clerics Gather in Egypt,” Midland Daily News, 19 Jan. 2002, Israeli PM Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Participants included Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron (1941- 2020, the Chief Rabbi of Israel), Sheikh Taisir Tamimi (Chief Justice of the Palestinian Sharia’ Courts), Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy (1928-2010, at the time the Grand Mufti of Egypt and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, one of the most influential Islamic institutions in the Muslim world), the Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, as well as other senior Muslim, Christian and Jewish religious leaders. It resulted in the Alexandria Declaration,17 Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The First Alexandria Declaration of the Religious Leaders of the Holy Land, 21 Jan. 2002, statement undersigned by all participating senior religious leaders that killing “in the name of God” is a desecration of the Divine name and in which they pledged themselves to resolve their disputes peacefully, continuing “a joint quest for a just peace.”18 The complete document and list of participants can be found in English in a report by Yehezkel Landau for the United States Institute for Peace, “Healing the Holy Land: Interreligious Peacebuilding in Israel/Palestine,” Peaceworks, 51, 2003, pp. 16-23, 51-52.

Getting the various religious leaders to not only participate in this summit but also to agree on the exact language of the declaration was far from easy or straightforward, and took tremendous efforts by the insider religious mediators.19 Canon White describes in detail this challenge in Maring, Clayton. “War Junkie for G-d: Andrew White, Iraq.” In Dubensky, Joyce S., editor. Peacemakers in Action, Volume 2: Profiles in Religious Peacebuilding, Cambridge University Press, 2016, pp. 90-93.Though the summit and its declaration won praise from world leaders, it also received harsh criticism by those possessing more extremist worldviews, such as Hamas. Following the Alexandria Summit, there was a strong desire to continue to build on such a historic, successful gathering of religious leaders. In 2002, the Mosaica Center for Interreligious Cooperation was established by Rabbi Melchior, which engaged numerous Jewish and Muslim religious leaders in Israel primarily through joint educational activities. These interreligious educational programs continued to operate until 2015.20 See “Jews and Muslims Talk,” YouTube, uploaded by Mosaica – Religion Society & State, 11 May 2014,

In 2005, participants from the Alexandria Summit, including Rabbi Melchior and Rabbi David Rosen, another well-known leader in advancing interreligious dialogue and peace, established the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land (CRIHL).21 See “Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land: Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” Peace Insight,

The member institutions of CRIHL were the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the leaders of the local Churches of the Holy Land, the Minister of the Islamic Waqf at the Palestinian Authority, and the Islamic Sharia Court of the Palestinian Authority. The members of the council pledged to strive in their roles as religious leaders “to prevent religion from being used as a source of conflict, and to promote mutual respect, a just and comprehensive peace, and reconciliation between people of all faiths in the Holy Land and worldwide.”22 Wang, Yvonne. How Can Religion Contribute to Peace in the Holy Land? A Study of Religious Peacework in Jerusalem (Ph.D. Thesis), University of Oslo, 2011, p. 198. For more about CRIHL see pp.197-209

CRIHL ceased to operate on a regular basis in 2013 but did reconvene to meet with Jason Greenblatt, the US administration’s Special Envoy for International Negotiations, in 2017.23 See Ahren, Raphael. “In ‘historic’ move, Trump envoy hosts the interfaith meeting,” Times of Israel, 16 Mar. 2017, interfaith-meeting/#gs.fra0vm.

“Alexandria in the name of God: Leaders of religious institutions – Muslim, Jewish and Christian – came out yesterday with a joint declaration, ‘The Alexandria Declaration’, that sees murder in the name of God a desecration of the holy and a ‘pollution’ of religion. This is an impressive attempt, very relevant, to separate religion from terror.” Israeli journalist (Nahum Barnea/Yedioth Ahronoth, 2002)

The Alexandria Declaration in Hebrew and Arabic and image of participants (courtesy of Rabbi Melchior)

Shendam Peace Affirmation

Rabbi Melchior with Pastor James and Imam Ashafa KAICIID conference, Vienna (2013)

The Center for Interreligious Cooperation (Mosaica, 2015)

In 2005, the first formal network of insider religious mediators was established. Mediators Rabbi Melchior, Sheikh Darwish and Sheikh Faluji, a former Hamas spokesman, established a strategic network between themselves and the centers at which they served as directors.24 “Rabbi, ex-Hamas and Muslim cleric unveil Mideast peace centres,” Jerusalem (AFP), 29 May 2005, (The original source doesn’t exist anymore)This partnership was initially referred to as “Alexandria Process Part II” and later renamed The Religious Peace Initiative in the Middle East (RPI). The three centers which make up the RPI are Sheikh Faluji’s Center in Gaza, Sheikh Abdullah’s Center in Kfar Kassem, both of which were later renamed the Adam Centers for Dialogue of Civilizations.25 See the Arabic-language website for Adam Center for Dialogue of Civilizations, center in Kfar Kassem was called specifically, The Adam Center for Interreligious Dialogue.and Rabbi Melchior’s Center Mosaica in Jerusalem, at which Rabbi Melchior continues until today to serve as president.

Together, these three insider religious mediators, with their centers and other partners, continued what had been started in the Alexandria Process. However, this time they aimed at engaging precisely the more extreme and influential religious leadership who were not part of the official Israeli or Palestinian establishment and who had been critical of the Alexandria Process. The goal was to reach out to the religious leaders who had far more influence on the religious worldviews involved in the conflict, namely the Islamic leaders aligned with Hamas and the larger, global Muslim Brotherhood movement and the right-wing, religious Zionist rabbis.

Today, the RPI continues to serve as a strategic network of insider religious mediators. Together, these insider religious mediators work to advance religious peace and help mitigate crisis-situations along the way. This is done through constantly expanding and strengthening their networks of relationships and trust with the most senior religious leaders in the Middle East who have direct influence over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These crisis-situations can be of a religious nature, such as the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa Crisis of 2017, or those that risk the lives of thousands, such as the coronavirus pandemic, on the occasion of which the RPI helped mediate between the World Health Organization (and Europe) and senior religious and medical leaders in the region.

In 2020, Mosaica, as part of the RPI, established a new initiative focused on engaging religious leaders on the community level called “Religious Leaders as Mediators.” The new initiative seeks to engage and train, separately, religious Zionist rabbis and Islamic Movement Sheikhs in both professional and traditional mediation to help them better mediate community conflicts. In parallel, Mosaica’s insider religious mediators work discreetly to connect religious Zionist rabbis with Islamic Movement sheiks, particularly within mixed Jewish-Arab cities and other areas within Israel where tensions are often high. The goals are for these local religious leaders to ultimately work together as insider religious mediators between their communities and advance religious peace and mitigate crisis situations as they arise.26 For more about Mosaica, see

I24 News Interview With Sheikh Ra’ed Bader (2020)

In 2020, Mosaica partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) to combat misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 by working directly with local religious leaders. The Kavod-Karama (“Dignity”) Project was established to build on this success by proactively addressing challenges, including vaccination campaigns ahead of major Muslim, Jewish, and Christian holidays. The project organized forums that convened religious leaders with representatives from the WHO and Israel’s Ministry of Health, developed materials to aid practitioners and helped established partnerships between health professionals, policymakers, academics, and religious leaders to learn from COVID-19 and prepare for future health emergencies.

The Bishop, the Sheikh and the Rabbi: Battling COVID-19 in the Holy Land

Case Studies of Insider Religious Mediation in the Context of the Israeli Palestinian Conflict

The following section presents several case studies of the interventions of insider religious mediators, and in particular, the RPI, operating in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These case studies are based on published news articles and posts on social media and do not cover even a small fraction of the full extent of the behind-the-scenes activity constantly taking place, but they do serve as important examples of the nature of the activity. The case studies can be divided into three primary categories of activity: 1) Engaging with religious leaders in support of religious peace; 2) Preventing and responding to violence in the name of religion; and 3) Mediating crisis-situations in real time.

Insider religious mediators are often, as noted above, also religious leaders in their own right and as such are connected to religious leaders who are more senior than they are and who are extremely influential stakeholders in sustaining or mitigating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The religious mediators are constantly strengthening their associations, leveraging them to arrive at higher tiers of leadership within the religious community. Therefore, it can be said that connections made in this context cannot be measured quantitatively but rather qualitatively. It can take a very long time to properly build one relationship and, in turn, bring that new leader to see themselves as an insider mediator who can provide a bridge to another leader, who is perhaps even more senior and influential. Once these relationships are established, they need to constantly be maintained and nurtured by virtue of the tangible results achieved by the connection (these results, however, do not always directly address the conflict). The primary means through which this ‘network building’ takes place is through the arrangement of small intimate and discreet meetings and occasionally larger gatherings, some of which are public.

Connecting Senior Religious Leaders to Religious Peace

Rabbi Melchior has, on several occasions, spoken of how he and his partners have conducted hundreds of sensitive meetings.27 See for example Ben-Dor, Calev. “‘Doing God’, or the importance of religious peacemaking: An interview with Rabbi Michael Melchior,” Fathom, Spring 2016, doing-god-or-the-importance-of-religious-peacemaking-an-interview-with-rabbi-michael- melchior/.

According to Rabbi Melchior, at these meetings and gatherings, some of the most extreme-leaning and influential religious leaders have the opportunity to encounter one another, build trusting relationships and commit to joining a network of religious peacebuilders and eradicating violence in the name of religion. Sheikh Ra’ed has also spoken about such meetings.28 See השיח ראיד באדיר, מנהל מרכז אדם לדיאלוג בין דתות – יוזמה דתית לשלום, [“Discourse with Sheikh Ra’ed Bader, Director of the Adam Center for Dialogue between Religions – Religious Peace Initiative”], YouTube, uploaded by Mosaica – Religion Society and State, 31 Mar. 2015,

Though many, including Dr. Ali Sirtawi, Sheikh Imad, and Rabbi Gisser have reflected on their participation in such meetings, the content of these meetings remains completely secret.29 Feldinger, “Muslim leaders across the Middle East.”For example, in an article he published in the Israeli Newspaper Makor (“Peace of Believers,” September 18, 2020), Rabbi Melchior describes one particular meeting he and Sheikh Ra’ed attended, while still withholding identifying details:

“Several years ago, I traveled with my Muslim friends to a meeting, one of hundreds, with senior Islamic leaders […] as part of Mosaica’s Religious Peace Initiative in the Middle East. This meeting was not just another meeting. I waited months, perhaps years. The leader who I met with was the leading Islamic religious leader after the assassination of Sheikh Achmad Yassin [the leader of Hamas]. He and his family spent much time in jail with us [Israelis] […]. He agreed to meet with me in his home after much urging from his partners and his students, the most senior amongst them being the Sheikh Abdullah Nimer Darwish, of blessed memory.”30 Melchior, Michael, Facebook, 8 Sep. 2020,

Rabbi Melchior goes on to describe how they sat for seven challenging hours, during which they discussed religious principles of war and peace, Hudna (‘ceasefire’) as opposed to Salam (‘peace’) and how religious peace is what has been missing from the secular political peace processes. Then:

“The Sheikh was quiet. And then pounded on the table and said: “the young rabbi is right. There is a time for war and a time for peace.” Other than us, there were twenty people who sat the whole time quietly and vigilantly, religious leaders primarily from Hamas, who were in shock from the turn of events: “What will people say? Your whole life, you instructed us otherwise!” The Sheikh responded in a resolute manner: “No one ever presented peace as a religious project. And in addition, my whole life, I never was afraid of what people would say. I am only afraid of Allah.” We hugged, took a picture together, prayed each one in his own corner and we parted in peace.”31 ibid

Rabbi Froman worked very hard to constantly engage religious and political leaders in this way and had a unique method of trying to arrange meetings: through writing letters. Rabbi Froman sent countless letters to heads of state on their inauguration, well-known writers and thinkers (see, for example, his letter to Elie Wiesel in 2010), and religious leaders, urging them to consider his proposal of advancing peace through religion instead of without it. In 2008, Rabbi Froman, together with Gershon Baskin, a non-religious insider mediator, sent such a letter to Barak Obama shortly after his election victory.32 See Kershner, “From an Israeli Settlement.”They urged him and his new administration to think about Middle East peace differently than it had been conceptualized for the past 20 years. While Rabbi Froman never had the opportunity to meet with President Obama, he did meet with Turkey’s PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2010, with his partner and long-time Islamic peacemaker, Sheikh Ghassan Manasra.33 See “Jerusalem peacemakers visit Turkish PM over peace plan,” World Bulletin, 4 Jun. 2010,; See also Israeli News Channel Two, “ארדואן נפגש עם הרב פרומן” [“Erdoğan meets with Rabbi Froman”], 3 Jun. 2010, meeting took place soon after the incident of the Mavi Marmara, which had significantly damaged Turkey-Israel relations.

Israeli News, Channel Two reports on Rabbi Froman’s meeting with PM Erdogan (June 3, 2010)

Though much of the meetings and gatherings of senior religious mediators are discreet and far from the public eye, there have been a few public gatherings in which the mediators have brought senior religious leaders from both sides together as a show of support for religious peace. The first was The Alexandria Summit of Religious Leaders of the Holy Land in 2002. Over the years since, the RPI has continued to serve as the platform for numerous gatherings of religious leaders (such as in Norway in 2011 and in Athens in 2015) that are held secretly. In 2015, several of the RPI’s senior insider religious mediators – Sheikh Abdullah, Rabbi Melchior, Sheikh Ra’ed and Rabbi Gisser – all spoke as part of a panel at the Haaretz Peace Conference in Tel Aviv, with the title “Jerusalem and the Religious Aspect of the Conflict: Towards Reconciliation or Explosion?”34 See the complete video of the panel, פאנל – ירושלים והמרכיב הדתי של הסכסוך – פיוס או פיצוץ? – ועידת ישראל לשלום 2015, YouTube, uploaded by Haaretz, 12 Nov. 2015, O7XVU&t=1892s.

This was a very rare occasion, in which these leaders spoke publicly about religious peace, even rarer in the context of a forum which is predominately liberal and secular. In such spaces, the notion of religious peace is considered, at best, exotic and, at worst, a threat to the predominating worldview of those involved. Indeed, Haaretz, who hosted the conference, did not bother to even mention in its articles on the event the historic speech of Sheikh Abdullah speaking about his involvement in advancing religious peace.35 The video of Sheikh Abdullah speaking at the״דברי שייח נימר דרוויש בוועידת השלום 2015״ conference was uploaded to YouTube by Haaretz, 12 Nov. 2015,

Video of Sheikh Ra’ed Bader, Rabbi Melchior and Rabbi Avi Gisser speaking at Haaretz Peace Conference (2015)

The most historic gathering of senior religious leaders since the Alexandria Summit of 2002 was the Alicante Summit of Religious Leaders for Peace in the Middle East, which took place in November 2016 in Alicante, Spain, under the official auspices of the Spanish Foreign Ministry36 Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores, Unión Europea y Cooperación, “Alicante Summit of religious leaders for peace in the Middle East (Press Release 240),” 14 Nov.2016, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC).37 “Remarks By H.E. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser The High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Summit for Peace in the Middle East,”, 13 Nov. 2016, in-the-middle-east-alicante-spain/.The RPI’s senior religious mediators, including Rabbi Melchior, Sheikh Ra’ed, Sheikh Imad and Rabbi Gisser, participated and helped organize the historic conference.38 Sheikh Abdullah was unable to attend at the last moment due to health issues.

Like at the Alexandria Summit in 2002, one of the chief rabbis of Israel, Rabbi David Lau, and the Palestinian Authority’s top Sharia judge, Dr. Mahmoud al-Habbash – who also served as President Mahmoud Abbas’s advisor on religious and Islamic affairs – were in attendance. However, this time, more ‘extreme’ worldviews were also included. On the Jewish side, one of the most influential leaders of the Torani religious Zionist movement, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, attended, and on the Islamic side, Dr. Naser al-Din al- Shaer (Senior Professor at Al-Najah University in Nablus, Minister for Education and Deputy PM) was scheduled to attend on behalf of Hamas in the Palestinian Cabinet.39 “Religious leaders participating at Summit for Peace in the Middle East, Alicante, 14 and 15 November 2016,” http://www.exteriores.gob.esPortal/en/SalaDePrensa/NotasdePrensa/ Documents/Religious%20leaders%20participating.pdf. Dr. Naser was, however, unable to attend at the last moment due to permit issues.

The participants, even those advocating for the more extreme worldviews, condemned all religious violence, undersigning a statement that declared “the proper means of solving conflict and disagreement is by negotiation and deliberation only” and pledged “to relentlessly seek peace in the Land.” The historic summit was covered in the English-, Hebrew– and Arabic-language media.40 See for example Sharon, Jeremy. “Jewish and Muslim Leaders call for end to violence and incitement,” 17 Nov. 2016, Jerusalem Post,; Times of Israel Staff. “Hamas-linked imam, Israel chief rabbi unite in call for peace,” Times of Israel, 19 Nov. 2016,; “רבנים ישראלים, ושיח’ים פלסטינים נפגשו בוועידה בספרד”, Makor Rishon, 17 Nov. 2016,

Religious Leaders for Peace in the Middle East Summit (Alicante/Spain, 2016)

A year later, in 2017, at the invitation of UNAOC, many of the senior insider religious mediators and leaders who had attended and helped organize the Alicante Summit – including Rabbi Melchior, Sheikh Ra’ed, Sheikh Imad, Dr. Nasser, and Rabbi Gisser, as well as Rabbanit Bar Shalom – presented their work at the special session on “The Role of Religious Leaders in Peacebuilding in the Middle East” at the United Nations in New York City.41 See the brochure for this event at leaders-v5-final3.pdf.final3.pdf.

Video of complete conference at the UN, (photo courtesy of Rabbi Melchior, July 19, 2017)

Preventing and Responding to Violence in the Name of Religion

Preventing and responding to violence in the name of religion has been a central prerogative of religious mediation since the Alexandria Declaration in 2002, which stated, “The Holy Land is holy to all three of our faiths. Therefore, followers of the divine religions must respect its sanctity and bloodshed must not be allowed to pollute it.”42 See the brochure for this event at leaders-v5-final3.pdf.This notion was later reaffirmed in the Alicante Declaration, which stated that “[t]he violence that is conducted, supposedly in the name of God, is a desecration of His name, a crime against those who are created in His image, and a debasement of faith. The proper means of solving conflict and disagreement is by negotiation and deliberation only.”43 Landau, “Healing the Holy Land,” p. 51.Therefore, insider religious mediators invest a significant amount of time and effort in addressing violence, whether it be to try and prevent it or to respond to it with clear denunciations.

Insider religious mediators, because of their vast network of connections to other religious leaders within their respective religious communities, have played important roles in mitigating crisis-situations in mixed Jewish-Arab cities within Israel. Often, religious Jewish Israelis and Islamist ‘Palestinians of ‘48’/ Israeli-Arabs live in the same neighborhoods within these mixed cities, which leads to constant conflict. These mixed cities, in certain ways, are microcosms of the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tensions in these cities are always high, but particularly so around religious holidays. In 2008, rioting broke out in the mixed city of Acre due to an incident between Jews and Arabs that had taken place on the holiest day in Judaism, Yom Kippur. Rabbi Melchior and Sheikh Abdullah quickly made public calls for peace. Drawing on religious symbolism from the Jewish festival of Sukkot, which immediately follows Yom Kippur and commemorates the temporary shelters built by the Israelites on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land, the religious leaders sat together in a Sukkah (‘tent’) which they called the “Sukkah of Peace.” Rabbi Melchior condemned the violence that had broken out between Jews and Arabs in the city: “We will not accept any form of incitement […] In Israel’s sukkah, there must be room for its Muslim and Christian citizens. We must cast out those who incite, and who hate, and leave room only for the good.”44 Einav, Hagai. “Hundreds gather at Akko ‘Peace Sukkah,’”, 15 Oct. 2008,,7340,L-3609256,00.html.

Rabbi Melchior, Sheikh Namir Darwish meet at ‘Peace Sukkah’ (George Ginsburg/Ynet News, 2008)

In 2014, the most somber day in Judaism, Yom Kippur, and the most joyous day of the Islamic calendar, Eid Al-Adha, fell on the same day. There was once again a concern which prompted Israeli police warnings that there would be an eruption of violence, particularly in mixed Jewish-Muslim cities within Israel, such as had taken place in Acre in 2008. This time, Rabbi Melchior and Sheikh Ra’ed Bader reached out to the most ‘radical’ Muslim leaders and asked for their support in attempting to avoid violence. The Muslim leaders issued a historic Fatwa that was published in the Arabic language press and posted on the walls of mosques calling on their co-religionists to respect Yom Kippur, while, in parallel, Rabbi Melchior arranged for senior rabbis to publish a statement explaining the significance of Eid Al Adha45 Melchior, “‘Doing God.’” Rabbi Melchior and Mosaica also arranged a series of meetings between rabbis and imams, so that they could inform themselves regarding the sensitivities involved with each holy day, encouraging them to work together to prevent violence. In addition, Mosaica’s Tochnit Gishurim – a project which supports tens of ‘community mediation and dialogue centers’ throughout the country, including in the mixed cities – held a number of events and meetings in these cities promoting nonviolence and tolerance on this sensitive, dual holy day. Their joint efforts and the efforts of their partners contributed to preventing violence from breaking out on that day.46 Lidman, Melanie. “Leaders bid to downplay tensions as Yom Kippur, Eid al-Adha clash,” Times of Israel, 2 Oct. 2014, leaders-bid-to-downplay-tensions-as-yom-kippur-eid-al- adha-clash/.

In November 2019, the RPI’s senior insider religious mediators, together with Mosaica’s Center for Conflict Resolution through Agreement’s senior professional mediators, presented to the top 300 Israeli police officers about their work in mitigating this crisis-situation and practical lessons that can be learned from it moving forward.

Fatwa (Islamic ruling) to respect Yom Kippur and celebrate Eid Al-Adha

Rabbi Melchior speaking about the role of religious leaders preventing violence on Yom Kippur/Eid Al-Adha to top Israeli police officers (November, 2019)

Religious leaders – such as Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi , one of the most influential Islamic authorities in the world – have had a direct impact on the level of violence in the region through their rulings, such as through permitting suicide attacks carried out by Hamas against Israelis. In direct opposition to this religious position, Sheikh Abdullah wrote a controversial book in 1999 (Auqifu Al-Siyasat Al-Intihariya Li-Hukumat Al-Istitan Al-Israeiliya), in which he openly spoke out against suicide bombings being carried out in the name of Islam against Israel.

Years later, in 2016, Sheikh Qaradawi openly reversed his ruling on suicide bombings on Saudi TV, stating that such acts were no longer permitted.47 See Sheikh Salman al-Awda’s interview of Sheikh Qaradawi on the Saudi TV channel Al-Hiwar.الشيخ سلمان العودة يحاور العلامة يوسف القرضاوي في لقاء خاص على قناة الحوار, YouTube, uploaded by Al Hiwar TV, 18 Nov. 2016, historic change in religious ruling attracted the attention of the well-known Israeli journalist Zvi Yehezkeli, who reported about it on Israel’s Channel 13.48 See program;לונדון את קירשנבאום, [“London et Kirshenbaum”], Channel 13, 28 Nov. 2016,, 24:00 (of 48-minute video).

Image of book

Watch the full video

Rabbi Melchior, in his 2016 article “Don’t dismiss the Islamic ruling on suicide attacks,” explained some of the backstory of this momentous occasion:

“Why did Sheikh Qaradawi reverse his ruling and why now? Just prior to announcing his decision on Saudi television, Qaradawi met with Dr. Nasser al-Din al-Shaer, a renowned Islamic scholar, former deputy PM for Hamas in the joint Fatah-Hamas Government and a key Palestinian figure in an initiative my colleagues and I have been working on for several years[, t]he Religious Peace Initiative […]. Al-Shaer reported to Qaradawi about the Religious Peace Initiative and its unique approach of pursuing peace by including, rather than ex-cluding, religious Jews and Islamists. Al-Shaer also requested Qaradawi’s support and blessing for the Initiative and asked him to publicly renounce his earlier fatwa. Qaradawi reported this meeting on his website and took to the airwaves.”49 Melchior, Michael. “Don’t dismiss the Islamic ruling on suicide at- tacks,” Times of Israel, 16 Jan. 2016,

Religious leaders who are also insider religious mediators will often be the first to denounce acts of ethnonational violence and, in addition, take action to engage others, often more senior religious leaders, to make similar declarations denouncing violence, to visit the scene of the crime and/or to visit with survivors. Sheikh Abdullah and his followers in the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement consistently and sharply condemned the suicide bombings that were carried out by Hamas and Islamic Jihad in early 1996 on the pretext that murder is forbidden, regardless of the murder’s context or the motives for carrying it out. Years later, Sheikh Ra’ed, Sheikh Abdullah’s primary disciple and the leading Islamic authority of the Southern Branch, publicly denounced the violent murder of the Jewish Fogel Family in 2011.50 11 March 2020, ““,לפי ההלכה המוסלמית מגיע לרוצחים מאיתמר עונש מוות [“According to Islamic Law, The Murderers of Itamar are Liable the Death Penalty”],

Jewish-Israeli insider mediators have often acted quickly to denounce acts of violence done by Jews to Palestinians as well. Usually, this meant reaching out and engaging more senior religious leaders to denounce the violence or pay a visit to the victims. In 2001, Chief Rabbi Bakshi-Doron sent a letter through Rabbi Froman to Yasser Arafat denouncing the murder of three Palestinians at the hands of Jewish-Israeli extremists. Rabbi Froman was consistently one of the first both to denounce acts of Jewish violence against Palestinians and to visit the sites where they occurred and pay respects to the victims; for example, following the burning of the Mosque in Lubban al-Sharqiya on May 4, 2010, by Jewish extremists51 YouTube, uploaded 6 May 2020 by Asaf Perry,”,הרב מנחם פרומן לאחר פעולת תג מחיר במסגד בלובן א שארקיה” feature=related.Several months later, on October 5, 2010, another mosque was burnt in the West Bank village of Beit Fajjar. This time Rabbi Froman came to visit the mosque with Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein and Rabbi Shlomo Risken, religious Zionist rabbis from the West Bank who were more senior than himself and, what is more, not generally aligned with his peacebuilding activities.52 See picture of the religious leaders, “An Israel soldier and a settler rabbi” (image), Getty Images, 5 Oct. 2010,

In the summer of 2015, following the horrific Duma Arson Attack, Rabbi Melchior was approached by the heads of the National Religious rabbinic organization Tzohar to plan a condolence meeting with the family.53 See Kempinski, Yoni. “Tzohar Rabbis Visit Arson Victims,” Israel National News, 3 Aug. 2015, did not have the contacts to arrange it. Rabbi Melchior, together with his partner Sheikh Abdullah, arranged a meeting at the Sheba Medical Center in Israel, where members of the family were being treated at the time.54 See “Tzohar Rabbonim Make a Joint Visit to Victims of Duma Arson Attack with Clerics of Other Religions,” The Yeshiva World, 3 Aug. 2015, headlines-breaking-stories/331413/tzohar-rabbonim-make-a-joint-visit-to-victims-of-duma- arson-attack-with-clerics-of-other-religions.html.

The Jewish delegation included the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Aryeh Stern, and the heads of the Tzohar organization, Rabbi David Stav and Rabbi Rafi Feurstein. The group of rabbis, together with Rabbi Melchior, Sheikh Abdullah, and Sheikh Ra’ed, met with the surviving family members and expressed their commitment to ongoing peace efforts and dialogue.55 For a complete video of the visit of the rabbis see Blumenfeld, Revital. “אביו של אבו חאדיר ביקר את משפחת דואבשה” [“The father of Abu Hadir visited the Duabsha family”], (video), Walla, 3 Aug. 2015,

Rabbi Menachem Froman visting burnt Mosque (Lubban Al-Sharqiya, 2010)

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Speaking out against violence has come to also include speaking out against antisemitism and islamophobia. Rabbi Melchior and Sheikh Abdullah made a pact that every time there is an act of antisemitism, Sheikh Abdullah would speak out against it, and every time there is an act of islamophobia, Rabbi Melchior would do the same. In 1998, a young Russian immigrant created caricatures of the prophet Mohammed in the form of a pig which she distributed around Hebron56 See Schmemann, Serge. “A day in court for Israeli who enraged Muslims,” New York Times, 19 Jul. 1997, enraged the locals, who saw it as a blasphemous attack on Islam. President Ezer Weizman and Israel PM Netanyahu condemned the act, but this was not enough to defuse the rage. Rabbi Melchior, in his Facebook post eulogizing the passing of Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron (1941-2020), tells of how he heard from his Palestinian contacts that in the wake of the incident the imams in Hebron were preparing incendiary sermons to deliver in the mosques, which could have inflamed violent riots.57 Melchior, Michael, Facebook, 16 Apr. 2020, understood that there was a need for a religious voice (and not just political voices) to win the confidence of the Muslim leadership and therefore brought Chief Rabbi Bakshi-Doron to Hebron, where they met with the Grand Mufti of Hebron. The Chief Rabbi explained that the woman’s actions were an abomination according to Jewish law. The Mufti was reassured by this response from the highest Jewish authority in Israel. He calmed the imams and, in so doing, avoided potential bloodshed.

In 2007, Sheikh Abdullah was the first Muslim leader to have ever spoken at the Global Forum for Combatting Antisemitism, which convened that year in Jerusalem.58 Gur, Haviv Rettig. “Islamic Mov’t: Muslims have accepted 2- state solution,” 11 Feb. 2007, Jerusalem Post, declared, “I am a soldier, and hopefully the lead soldier, in the war against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the region.” In the same speech, Sheikh Abdullah sharply criticized anyone who denies the Holocaust, including Iranian President Ahmadinejad: “Tell anyone who denies the Holocaust: ‘Go ask the Germans, did you do it or not?’’59 Barkat, Amiram.”השייח דרוויש גינה הכחשת שואה והצהרות אחמדינג’אד“, “HaSheikh Darwish genah hachashat Shoah vehatzarot Ahmadinejad”, Haaretz, 2 Feb. 2007, April 2020, MK Dr. Mansour Abbas, from the Ra’am party, which is connected to the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement, delivered a historic speech on the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day, in which he attested, “As a religious Palestinian Muslim Arab, who was raised on the legacy of Sheikh Abdullah Nimer Darwish, who founded the Islamic Movement, I have empathy for the pain and suffering over the years of Holocaust survivors and the families of the murdered.”60 See “Arab-Israeli lawmaker honors Holocaust victims at Knesset,” i24News, 21 Apr. 2020, See also Wolf, Etzeek.News1, 21 Apr. 2020,

It is also important to note in this context the historic visit by Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Issa, Secretary General of the Muslim World League (based in Saudi Arabia), to Auschwitz in January 2020.61 See Schwartz, Yaakov. “This must never happen again, says Saudi cleric as Muslim group tours Auschwitz,” Times of Israel, 24 Jan. 2020,; and i24 News, 24 Jan. 2020, trip took place together with tens of other Islamic leaders and leaders of the American Jewish Committee and was an important step toward advancing religious peace between Jews and the Muslim world.

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Mediating Crisis Situations in Real Time

A very significant amount of the religious mediators’ time and resources are invested in discreetly responding to and mitigating crisis-situations behind the scenes, as they arise in real-time. These situations, in turn, also strengthen their networks and standing within and between their communities. Rabbi Melchior says that his network of religious mediators is constantly intervening to maintain peace, efforts that are not restricted to religious contexts.62 Feldinger, “Muslim leaders across the Middle East.”Rabbi Melchior has also shared that most of their work takes place quietly and confidentially and each success is built on the relationships that the insider religious mediators have developed with one another.63 Klein, Zvika. “‘הרב מיכאל מלכיאור: ‘השלום לא יבוא מבחוץ“[Rabbi Michael Melchior: Peace Will Not Come From Out There”], 4 Mar. 2018, Makor Rishon,

As noted above, Rabbi Froman and Sheikh Abdullah already began working to advance religiously sanctioned ceasefires and hostage exchanges between Hamas and Israel in the mid-90s, such as in the context of a kidnapped Israeli soldier, Nachshon Wachsman, who was held hostage by Hamas in 1994. Over the years since Rabbi Froman continued to conduct meetings to advance ceasefires as well as hostage exchanges. On June 26, 2006, it was reported that Rabbi Froman was blocked by Israeli forces in the middle of conducting a meeting in Jerusalem with senior Hamas leaders, including Mahmoud Abu-Ter and Israeli MK Ibrahim Sarsour (who had taken over for Sheikh Abdullah as leader of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement).64 See “This was 2006,”, 26 Jan. 2006, P.4.The meeting purportedly concerned the announcing of a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. On February 15, 2008, Rabbi Froman, together with a Palestinian journalist with close ties to Hamas, Khaled Amayreh, attempted to mediate a ceasefire and hostage exchange between Israel and Hamas.65 See Cobban, Helena. “Video of Froman and Amayreh discussing Accord,” 15 Feb. 2008,; and Etinger, Yair, Haaretz, 3. Feb. 2008, “רב ועיתונאי פלשתינאי ניסחו הצעה לשחרור גלעד שליט” [“Rabbi and Journalist Drafted Proposal for Release of Gilad Shalit”], Froman and Amayreh connected senior religious leaders in Turkey with senior religious leaders in Israel in order to try and bring about the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas, as well as a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.

Another example of insider religious mediators operating behind the scenes in hostage situations is the Siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, from April 2 to May 10, 2002, only months after the Alexandria Summit. Canon White describes in great detail how he, together with Rabbi Melchior and other insider religious mediators who had participated in the summit, engaged in intense shuttle diplomacy between the various religious and political leaders until it was resolved.66 See Maring, “War Junkie,” pp 93-95.

Perhaps the most profound example of the RPI’s insider religious mediators mitigating crisis situations took place after two Muslim ‘Palestinians of ‘48’/Israeli- Arabs killed two Israeli police officers on the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa Mosque on July 14, 2017. Israeli police subsequently put up cameras and metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa, which led to calls of violence in what became known as the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa Crisis.67 See Mason, Simon J.A. “Local Mediation with Religious Actors in Israel-Palestine.” In CSS Analyses in Security Policy, 281, p. 4, Apr. 2021.The installation caused great offense to the Muslim world and the situation was inflamed by extremists who wanted, according to Rabbi Melchior, to use the sensitivity of the site for Jews and Muslims “to create a world war, a clash of civilizations.” Riots broke out on the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank, with several fatalities. Since the Israeli government had no channels of communication with senior Palestinian religious leaders, they were unable to defuse the rage. The Jerusalem Police, who had a good relationship with Mosaica due to years of receiving cultural sensitivity training from Mosaica’s Center for Conflict Resolution through an Agreement, appealed to Rabbi Melchior, the President of Mosaica, for help. The police knew of his relationships with senior Islamic leaders (in part thanks to Rabbi Melchior’s 2014 intervention in the mixed cities, as discussed above). These relationships enabled him, together with the other senior insider mediators, to meet the leaders of the Waqf, or the Muslim authority, responsible for overseeing the Al-Aqsa Mosque. According to Rabbi Melchior, they negotiated non-stop for a week in order to come to a solution “before the whole Middle East went up in flames.”68 Ibid. Finally, they forged an agreement “with the support of a lot of players in the Muslim world and the Israeli police” that was also “approved by the Israeli cabinet.” The metal detectors were removed, and the Waqf successfully reclaimed responsibility for ensuring quiet as before.69 See interview of Rabbi Melchior with Israeli journalist Aharon Barnea, 6 Aug. 2017, uploaded by Israeli Knesset TV Channel, “אהרן ברנע מראיין את הרב מיכאל מלכיאור” [“Aharon Barnea Interviews Rabbi Michael Melchior”],

The intervention provides a rare example of the very sensitive process of insider religious mediation being shared with the press, demonstrating the significance of the role the RPI can play in a crisis-situation.70 Nachshoni, Kobi. “Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative helped resolve Temple Mount standoff,” 29 Jul. 2017,,7340,L-4995939,00.htmlThe intervention was, however, strongly criticized by the deputy chairman of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, Sheikh Kamal Khatib.71 “القدس الفاضحة!!!!” [“Jerusalem the Scandalous”], Both Sheikh Imad and Dr. Nasser later denied Sheikh Khatib’s accusation that they had been involved in mediating the crisis. See “حماس اﻟﻀﻔﺔ ﻏﺎﺿﺒﺔ ﻋﲆ اﻟﻈﻬﻮر اﻟﺪﺣﻼني ﰲ ﻏﺰة,” [Hamas of the West Bank Fumes at Dahlan’s Appearance in Gaza”], 29 Jul. 2017,

Muslim worshiper praying outside Al-Aqsa (Ynet News, 2017)

It is important to emphasize that the Islamic-Palestinian insider mediators do not only operate in the context of religious peace. In fact, they work primarily to advance intra-Palestinian reconciliation, in particular between Fatah and Hamas. Sheikh Abdullah, with his complex identity and vast connections, had already begun serving as a mediator between the factions as far back as the First Intifada in the late 1980s. For instance, in August 1994, Yasser Arafat asked Sheikh Abdullah and his fellow leaders of the Islamic Movement to mediate between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. From the point of view of the Islamic Movement, the aim of this mediation was to bring calm to the conflict between the two sides and gain legitimacy and recognition from the PLO and from the Islamists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A more recent example of such mediation attempts took place in Cairo in 2012 when Sheikh Abdullah led a delegation with the purpose of advancing reconciliation between the various Palestinian factions.72 “,وفد برئاسة الشيخ عبد الله نمر درويش يزور القاهرة لبحث اخر المستجدات” [“A delegation headed by Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish visits Cairo to discuss recent developments”], Alaraby, 2 Apr. 2012, delegation consisted of prominent personalities from Palestine/the West Bank, Jerusalem and the ‘interior’ (Israel). The attendees included Dr. Nasser, Dr. Ali, Professor Dr. Abdul Rahman Abbad (Secretary General of the Council of Scholars and Preachers in Palestine), Sheikh Ibrahim Sarsour (Head of the Arab Unity Party/Islamic Movement), Sheikh Safwat Fareej (Vice President of the movement) and Sheikh Ra’ed Bader.73 وفد برئاسة الشيخ عبد الله نمر درويش يزور القاهرة لإرجاء مباحثات هامة حول آخر المستجدات” ” [“A delegation headed by Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish visits Cairo to hold important discussions on the latest developments”], Kufur-Kassem, 2 Apr. 2012,,N-95504.html. Of course, the exact problems being discussed and what solutions emerged were not made known to the public, like much of the work of insider mediation.

Delegation of senior Islamic mediators (Cairo,2012)

The Jewish-Israeli insider religious mediators discussed so far are less invested in the critical work of intra-Israeli dialogue than their Palestinian counterparts. When such work does occur, it is primarily between the secular-liberal, peace-oriented worldview and the right-wing, illiberal, religious Zionist worldview. There are, however, several organizations that address issues arising from dissonance between worldviews in the Jewish-Israeli community, such as Siach Shalom (‘Talking Peace’), which brings together leaders from the traditional peace camp and rabbis and other ideological leaders from the settlements to talk about their concept of peace.74 See Zinger, Sharon Leshem, A. Isaacs and A. Rosenak, “Letter to members of ALLMEP from Siach Shalom (Talking Peace) following the issuing of ALLMEP’s statement about annexation,” example is The Citizens Accord Forum (associated with Rabbi Melchior), which facilitated between 2018 and 2020 important deliberations concerning the cultivation of a language of peace among the religious Zionist and ultra-Orthodox rabbinic and lay leadership.75 For more about this process, see the website of the Citizens Accord Forum,

Conclusion and Recommendations

This article presented the identities, methods, and history of insider religious mediators in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These insider mediators are involved in religious leadership, and many of them are also former politicians. Many of them have complex identities which allow them to be both deeply respected by and connected to the conflicting sides. These religious leaders do not engage in professionally facilitated interreligious dialogue groups but rather utilize their reputations and vast connections with politicians, security apparatuses, and, most critically, other religious leaders, in particular, those considered to possess the most extreme worldviews (and yet often have the most influence over the actors in the conflict). Most of the work of these leaders is done in private meetings far from the public eye, and only occasionally have they organized public gatherings and summits. They have worked relentlessly to prevent and respond with a religious voice to acts of violence that were done ‘in the name of God.’ Not only has this entailed speaking out promptly against religiously motivated violence, but also writing religious legal rulings that seek to formally outlaw such violence. They have worked to mediate between religious leaders of the mixed Jewish-Arab cities within Israel.

In addition, the Jewish religious mediators have worked to counter islamophobia, while the Islamic religious mediators have worked to counter antisemitism and Holocaust denial. These insider religious mediators constantly work to mitigate crisis situations in real-time and, in so doing, strengthen their networks and advance warm, religious peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims. While these insider religious mediators do not all agree on the exact political solution, they are all in agreement that the foundation of religious peace is a critical ingredient in any potential sustainable political peace agreement. International actors and diplomats seeking to intervene and mediate constructively in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must take it upon themselves to work toward understanding all the conflicting worldviews within this ethnic-national-religious conflict, identifying and engaging directly with the insider mediators, including religious leaders, who are active behind the scenes shuttling between these conflicting worldviews to build peace.

Profiles of Insider Religious Mediators

The following details the personal profiles of insider religious mediators operating in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict who are discussed throughout the article. Each of these insider mediators are considered religious leaders within their communities and several of them have also held political positions in government.

Islamic-Palestinian Insider Religious Mediators

Sheikh Abdullah Nimer Darwish

Sheikh Abdullah Nimer Darwish (b. Kafr Qasim, 1948, d. 2017) was the religious and political founder of the Islamic Movement in Israel/the Palestinian area of 1948.

Sheikh Abdullah Nimer Darwish

Sheikh Abdullah Nimer Darwish (b. Kafr Qasim, 1948, d. 2017) was the religious and political founder of the Islamic Movement in Israel/the Palestinian area of 1948.

Sheikh Abdullah Nimer Darwish (b. Kafr Qasim, 1948, d. 2017) was the religious and political founder of the Islamic Movement in Israel/ the Palestinian area of 1948. He served as an ‘insider mediator’ through advancing both intra-Palestinian reconciliation and religious peace as co-founder of the Religious Peace Initiative and President of the Adam Center for Interreligious Dialogue.

Sheikh Abdulla grew up in a secular communist family. As a child, he witnessed the 1956 ‘massacre at Kafr Qasim,’ an experience which contributed greatly to the shaping of his political as well as national identity. Soon after the 1967 war, he began studying at the Islamic Institute in Nablus, in the West Bank. There, he became immersed in the teachings of modern Islam and in particular those of Hasan Al-Bana, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. On his return to Kafr Qasim in 1971, he began work on establishing the Islamic Movement and preached throughout the country on the need for a religious return to Islam which would put an end to the internal strife and establish a trans-national Islamic caliphate. A few years later, partly inspired by the Iranian Revolution in 1979, he founded a small and secretive paramilitary organization called Usrat al-Jihād (‘the Family of Jihad’), whose goal was to establish an Islamic religious state in Palestine. In 1981, Sheikh Abdullah was arrested by Israeli authorities with the other members of Usrat al-Jihād and convicted of membership in a terrorist organization. He remained in prison until his release in 1984. His time in Israeli prison was a turning point in his political development, after which he adopted a different ideology concerning the recognition of the State of Israel and the relationship between Israeli-Jews, Israeli-Arabs and Palestinians.

As an initial but very important step, upon returning to activities under the banner of the Islamic Movement, he resolved that the movement would thenceforth operate solely within the laws of the State of Israel. He began focusing on social community activities and, to the surprise of his followers, began speaking out against the involvement of ‘Palestinians of ‘48’/Israeli-Arabs in violence and terrorism directed toward the State of Israel. Sheikh Abdullah then spearheaded the integration of the Islamic Movement into the country’s municipal political system, garnering popular support for the party. Electoral successes of the 1990s breathed further hope into the vision of Sheikh Abdullah and the Islamic Movement. In these years, Sheikh Abdullah decided to increase his involvement in Israeli society and politics, going as far as to support the Oslo Accords in 1993, despite initial hesitations. Sheikh Abdullah later supported other political initiatives that would lead to a two-state solution, such as the Geneva Initiative76 See Ettinger, Yair. “מייסד התנועה האסלאמית שותף להבנות
“,[“Islamic Movement Founder a Partner in Understanding”], Haaretz, December 2, 2003
and the Arab Peace Initiative, and was quoted as saying, in an address to Jewish-Israelis, that the latter initiative was the “the political messiah that the Jews dreamed of. Your Israeli flag will be raised in 57 Arab and Muslim countries. Accept the Arab Peace Initiative. Do not waste the opportunity.”77 See Bader, Ra’ed’s article “المبادرة الدينية للسلام بين الإسرائيليين والفلسطينيين” [“Religious Peace Initiative between Israelis and Palestinians”] Nawazel, 9 Nov. 2017, Here he quotes Sheikh Abdullah’s words as they were stated in an address to UNESCO.

Sheikh Abdullah expressed his personal journey in a speech he delivered at the Haaretz Israel Conference for Peace held toward the end of 2015. On that occasion, Sheikh Abdullah remarked:

Gentlemen, I, Sheikh Abdullah Nimer Darwish, founded the Islamic Movement in Israel. Along the way, we got entangled with the jihad movement, and I sat in prison for it […]. And there I thought a lot. Right after leaving the prison, I stood in front of all the members of the movement who had come to greet me, and said: Gentlemen, I, your Sheikh, am from now on the first soldier for peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Gentlemen, I’m not saying I’m the first soldier to make peace because I’m so cowardly, no! I do so because I am strong! Strong in my faith, strong in the deep faith that on this land both peoples should live! The ‘devil’s’ assertion – ‘either we or you’ – should be eradicated. No! The truth is ‘we and you,’ we will live together each in our independent state, and I, the soldier of peace, will remain here, in the State of Israel, to continue making peace with my Jewish religious friends […].78 See Bader, Ra’ed. “לפי ההלכה המוסלמית מגיע לרוצחים מאיתמר”, [“According to Islamic law the murderers from Itamar deserve the death penalty”], Mako, 20 Mar. 2011,

He concluded by referring to Rabbi Melchior and the activities of the Religious Peace Initiative:

My brother and friend Rabbi Melchior, we established together the coalition of Jews and Arabs for peace and we founded the Religious Peace Initiative. It is not very different from other initiatives, but we included religion. This, in order to say to others: “Gone are the days when clerics were the obstacle to peace; we remove the obstacles. To those who do not want to participate with us in making peace, either from among the Muslim or Jewish faithful, stand back and let us pave the way!” Shalom Aleichem.

Video interviewing Sheikh Abdullah in Arabic on i24 News shortly before he passed away in 2017

Sheikh Abdullah Nimer Darwish speaking at the Haaretz Israel Conference on Peace, November 12, 2015

Sheikh Abdullah in gathering of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Nazareth, 2016

Sheikh Ra’ed Bader

Sheikh Ra’ed Bader (b. Kafr Qasim, 1968) is the senior Islamic authority (Mufti) of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement inside Israel/the Palestinian area of 1948.

Sheikh Ra’ed Bader

Sheikh Ra’ed Bader (b. Kafr Qasim, 1968) is the senior Islamic authority (Mufti) of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement inside Israel/the Palestinian area of 1948.

Sheikh Ra’ed Bader (b. Kafr Qasim, 1968) is the senior Islamic authority (Mufti) of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement inside Israel/the Palestinian area of 1948. He is a member of the Ulama Council of Scholars and Preachers in Palestine and a founding member of the Institute of Islamic Rulings and Research for ‘Palestinians of ‘48’/Israeli-Arabs. He holds a BA in Arabic Language and Islamic Law from the College of Islamic Sharia, Baqa Al-Gharbia, and a MA in jurisprudence and legislation from An-Najah National University in Nablus. In addition, he studied for several years with some of the most senior Islamic scholars in Jordan, Hebron and Nablus. Among his primary teachers were Sheikh Abdullah, Dr. Ali Sirtawi and Dr. Nasser al-Din al-Sha’ar, the latter two of which are leading Islamic authorities in Nablus. Sheikh Ra’ed has published several books and hundreds of Fatwas (Islamic religious rulings), primarily through his two websites and His books and rulings relate to a wide range of topics in Islamic law, including organ donations, marriage and divorce, Bitcoin and the coronavirus pandemic. Many of these religious rulings relate to the complex reality of Muslims living as a minority group within the State of Israel and the Islamic value of human dignity is often a guiding principle. He also served for many years as a lawyer in the Islamic Sharia courts in Israel and is a certified arbitrator and mediator.

In addition to serving as a leading religious authority, Sheikh Ra’ed is also the director of the Adam Center for Interreligious Dialogue. Together with his late teacher, Sheikh Abdullah, and Rabbi Michael Melchior, he has served as a senior insider religious mediator advancing the Religious Peace Initiative in the Middle East. In this framework, Sheikh Ra’ed still works to advance today hundreds of discreet meetings a year with senior religious leaders and politicians, both locally and abroad, in efforts to advance religious peace and mitigate crisis situations. Sheikh Ra’ed has played a leading role in organizing various summits and gatherings that bring together senior religious leaders, such as in Alicante in 2016, as well as in mitigating crisis situations, such as working to prevent outbreaks of violence in mixed Jewish-Arab cities and during The Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa Crisis of 2017.79 Nachshoni, Kobi. “Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative helped resolve Temple Mount standoff,” 29 Jul. 2017,,7340,L4995939,00.html

After the murder of the Fogel Family in 2011, Sheikh Ra’ed publicly denounced the murder, an unusual gesture for an Islamic leader.80 See Bader, Ra’ed. “לפי ההלכה המוסלמית מגיע לרוצחים מאיתמר”, [“According to Islamic law the murderers from Itamar deserve the death penalty”], Mako, 20 Mar. 2011, addition, Sheikh Ra’ed has spoken openly and publicly about nonviolence and religious peace on TV81 “השיח ראיד בדיר, מנהל מרכז אדם לדיאלוג בין דתות – יוזמה דתית לשלום” [“Discussion with Sheikh Raed Bader, Director of the Adam Center for Dialogue between Religions – Religious Peace Initiative”], YouTube, uploaded by Mosaica – Religious Society & State, 31 Mar. 2015, before audiences at various forums and conferences, such as before the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) on July 18, 2017, during their special session on “The Role of Religious Leaders in Peacebuilding in the Middle East.” Sheikh Ra’ed has also published articles about the Religious Peace Initiative and is currently writing a new Fatwa, entitled “Peace in the Holy Land is a Legitimate Necessity and a Human Dignity,” which will advocate for a two-state solution.82 See Bader, Ra’ed’s article “المبادرة الدينية للسلام بين الإسرائيليين والفلسطينيين” [“Religious Peace Initiative between Israelis and Palestinians”] Nawazel, 9 Nov. 2017, See also “On religious peace with Rabbi Melchior and Sheikh Raed Bader”, YouTube, uploaded by The Citizens’ Accord Forum, 2 Nov. 2020, book will serve as a historic ruling in support of religious peace with the State of Israel from an Islamic perspective and will address all past Islamic rulings that have forbid doing so.

For academic research on Sheikh Ra’ed’s medical Fatwas see here; and with particular regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, here.

Video of Sheikh Ra’ed speaking about religious peace at the UN, 2017

Video of Sheikh Ra’ed Bader speaking about the Religious Peace Initiative, November 2020

Sheikh Imad Faluji

Sheikh Imad Faluji (b. 1963, Jabalia refugee camp, Gaza) is a former politician, engineer, writer and mediator.

Sheikh Imad Faluji

Sheikh Imad Faluji (b. 1963, Jabalia refugee camp, Gaza) is a former politician, engineer, writer and mediator.

Sheikh Imad Faluji (b. 1963, Jabalia refugee camp, Gaza) is a former politician, engineer, writer and mediator.83 For more about Sheikh Imad’s story see his personal website, served first as both a leader in Hamas and, later, as the Minister of Post and Telecommunications in the Palestinian Authority from 1996 to 2002. Since 2003, Sheikh Imad has served as the chairman of the Adam Center for Dialogue of Civilizations.84 To learn more, visit 2009, President Mahmud Abbas appointed him as the commissioner for the patronization of Jerusalem and its holy sites. Sheikh Imad is an independent leader in Gaza and is widely endorsed by the various branches of Palestinian politics in Gaza and the West Bank in his work to promote intra-Palestinian reconciliation and religious peace. Sheikh Imad studied Islamic law at the Islamic University of Gaza in 1981 and afterward continued to study civil engineering in Ukraine until 1987.

He holds a doctorate in management from the American World University and a certificate of Leadership and Governance from Harvard Kennedy School. Sheikh Imad joined the Muslim Brotherhood as a high school student. Afterward, he established a student movement in the spirit of the Muslims while studying in the Soviet Union. He was eventually expelled by the Soviet authorities back to Gaza. During the outbreak of the First Intifada in 1987, he joined the newly established Hamas. After two years, when much of Hamas’s leadership sat in Israeli prison, he continued to lead the party’s activities in Gaza and the West Bank. He, too, sat in Israeli prison for his involvement with Hamas from 1991 until 1994. Upon his release, he served as the official spokesman for Hamas. Despite his partisanship, Sheikh Imad nevertheless was careful to maintain good relations with all the Palestinian political and religious factions. This earned him a personal meeting with Yasser Arafat – who was considered an outcast in the eyes of Hamas at the time because of his signing the Oslo Accords. In fact, Hamas’s treatment of Arafat was one of the contributing causes to Sheikh Imad’s leaving the organization. Despite leaving Hamas, he continued to maintain close ties with the different Palestinian factions, which allowed him to serve as an insider mediator between them. Sheikh Imad has also served as an insider mediator in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the advancement of religious peace.

Together with Sheikh Abdullah, he helped facilitate a meeting between Rabbi Menachem Froman and Sheikh Ahmad Yassin (1937-2004) in Gaza in 1997. In 2005, he established the Religious Peace Initiative with Sheikh Abdullah and Rabbi Michael Melchior, through which he has helped facilitate numerous private meetings as well as the Alicante Summit in 2016. Sheikh Imad also shared publicly some of his thoughts about religious peace in the framework of the UNAOC’s special session on “The Role of Religious Leaders in Peacebuilding in the Middle East:

We have to understand the importance of the religious element in the souls and the minds of the people of this region. We would be extremely wrong if we believe that peace can be made without realizing religious peace first. Many of the political leaders in the past decades committed gross mistakes when they either ignored or rejected religious differences to participate in the peace process. I believe this was one of the most important factors that contributed to the aborting of the peace process in the region […]. I believe that we were at fault because we, the religious men, failed to discuss the religious peace. We were not allowed to play a role, and therefore the Islamic movements acted out to prove their existence […].

All the other projects failed; the politicians failed. Those who had loud voices – Resistance, the Jihadists – they failed. However, now there is one voice: How can we, the men of faith […] who do not lie, who speak with honesty to people, we, I believe, are the closest to the masses. Therefore, we believe that religion can influence people, let me give you an example: Al-Aqsa Mosque. We stand as a wall against the extremists, preventing them from exploiting what happened in Al-Aqsa Mosque, so that we do not end with a religious mutiny, with a religious rebellion […]

I received all the leaders of Islamic action in Gaza, in all their forms, in all their configurations and I’m in continuous contact with their officials of the Islamic Jihad, of the Salafi Movement in Palestine, of Hamas. Yesterday – yesterday exactly – I told some of the leaders about this conference in which I will be participating today, and they all told me that they would have hoped to participate with us in this conference. They asked me to convey to everyone that the strife, the conflict, in the region was not religious and will not be religious. This strife is not religious. They said that they are not against the Jews nor the Christians as the People of the Book […] They told me that they believe in the ideas that we believe in.85 United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, “The Role of Religious Leaders in Peace-building in the Middle East” (video), 18 Jul. 2017,

Adam Center FaceBook post of Sheikh Imad meeting with Former head of Hamas, Khaled Mashal, August 3, 2019

Video of Sheikh Imad speaking about religious peace at the UN, 2017

Dr. Nasser al-Din al-Sha’ar

Dr. Nasser Al Adin Asha’ar (b. 1961) is a senior Palestinian Islamic authority, a professor of Islamic Law at An-Najah University in Nablus and a politician.

Dr. Nasser al-Din al-Sha’ar

Dr. Nasser Al Adin Asha’ar (b. 1961) is a senior Palestinian Islamic authority, a professor of Islamic Law at An-Najah University in Nablus and a politician.

N Dr. Nasser Al Adin Asha’ar (b. 1961, Nabulus) Dr. Nasser Al Adin Asha’ar (b. 1961, Nabulus) is a senior Palestinian Islamic authority, a professor of Islamic Law at An-Najah University in Nablus and a politician. Since 2016, he has been a member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), which is based in Qatar and currently headed by Sheikh Ahmad al-Raysuni86 See Al-Sha’ar, Nasser al-Din, Facebook, 13 Dec. 2016, serves as the senior religious authority of all branches of the Muslim Brotherhood, including Hamas). Dr. Nasser served as the Deputy PM under Ismail Haniyeh and as Minister of Education and Higher Education for the Hamas government in 2006 and the unity government in 2007.87 See, “د. الحمص يسلم مهام وزارة التربية والتعليم إلى الوزير ناصر الدين الشاعر” [“Dr. Abu al-Hummas hands over the duties of the Ministry of Education to minister Nasser al-Din Al Shaer”], Wafa, 10 Mar. 2016, See also the list published by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre, “The PA Ministerial Cabinet List, March 2006 – March 2007,” late 2019, Dr. Nasser, who is seen by the general population as a moderate, well-respected Islamist leader, has been discussed in the Palestinian press as a possible consensus presidential candidate, that is, one who would be endorsed by both Hamas and Fatah.88 Nimer, Adnan Abu. “Potential consensus candidate helps Hamas, Fatah communicate,” Al-Monitor, 19 Dec. 2019,

Dr. Nasser has self-identified as independent of party affiliation and has worked for years to strengthen Palestinian reconciliation and cultivated a vast network of political and religious connections internationally. Dr. Nasser was arrested several times by Israeli authorities, most frequently between 2006 and 2012, due to his affiliation with Hamas.89 Upon his arrest in 2007 while serving as the Minister of Education, Rabbi Melchior, who was himself at the time the Chair of the Education Committee in the Knesset, spoke out against the arrest. He testified that he knew Dr. Nasser well, that he is a strong supporter of the two-state solution, that he engages in high-level interreligious dialogue and that he represents the most moderate wing of Hamas, being very close to Abu Mazen. For more on these events, see Eldar, Akiva. “דווקא זה שנחשב להכי מתון”, Haaretz, 11 Jun. 2007, See also the short biography of Dr. Nasser on the website of “Vision for Political Development,” which notes the various arrests by Israel,, (posted 5 Sept. 2019).Dr. Nasser has published numerous books from an Islamist perspective on a wide variety of topics including democracy, human rights and religious education. In a book from 1998 entitled The Palestinian-Israeli Peace Process: An Islamic Perspective (published in English in 2000), Dr. Nasser expressed his support for a two-state solution. Dr. Nasser allegedly played an important role as an insider mediator both with regards to the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa crisis of 2017 and in Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s decision to change his opinion regarding suicide attacks.

Dr. Nasser, together with Sheikh Imad Faluji, also spoke (over video conference) at the UNAOC’s special session on “The Role of Religious Leaders in Peacebuilding in the Middle East”:

All sane people are called today to work to build a secure future for our future generations and stand firmly against continued conflicts in the world. As part of the audience today was religious leaders, this necessitated that they have a noticeable and effective role in highlighting the ability of religion to prevail over [sic] love, peace and human coexistence. And since the propaganda wave in many countries of the world seeks to associate violence with religion and hold it responsible for hatred in the world, it has become imperative for clerics to shed light on the true im-age of religion as the Creator’s message to save humanity and its guidance and leadership towards goodness, love and stability. We must stop holding religion responsible for the violence, conflict and hatred that is taking place in the world […]. I am addressing you now from the Holy Land in which God blessed the worlds with the holy text of his book and from which heavenly religions have sprung up to the whole world.90 United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, “The Role of Religious Leaders in Peacebuilding.”

Dr. Nasser went on to also speak about the need to end the occupation and arrive at a just peace:

On top of all this is the occupation, which is spoiling all aspects of our lives. Rather, it is destroying our soul from within and insulting ourselves. Today, all of us in this world are required to join hands in the name of religion, politics, thought, logic and law to end this bitter struggle.91 Ibid

Article published in English Al-Monitor, December 29, 2019

Video of Dr. Nasser speaking about religious peace at the UN, 2017

Dr. Ali al-Sartawi

Sheikh Dr. Ali al-Sartawi (born 1967 in Sarta) is a senior Palestinian Islamic authority, a professor of Islamic Law at An-Najah University in Nablus and a former politician, having served as Minister of Justice on behalf of Hamas in the national unity government of the Palestinian National Authority in 2007.

Dr. Ali al-Sartawi

Sheikh Dr. Ali al-Sartawi (born 1967 in Sarta) is a senior Palestinian Islamic authority, a professor of Islamic Law at An-Najah University in Nablus and a former politician, having served as Minister of Justice on behalf of Hamas in the national unity government of the Palestinian National Authority in 2007.

Sheikh Dr. Ali al-Sartawi Sheikh Dr. Ali al-Sartawi (b. 1967, Sarta) is a senior Palestinian Islamic authority, a professor of Islamic Law at An-Najah University in Nablus and a former politician, having served as Minister of Justice on behalf of Hamas in the national unity government of the Palestinian National Authority in 2007. Dr. Ali received his PhD in Islamic Law from the University of Jordan in 1997. He has written extensively as a religious and academic scholar on a wide range of topics, including labor law, banking, constitutional law and human rights. As a senior Islamic authority with very close ties to both Hamas and Fatah, he has often served as an insider mediator between them, working to advance Palestinian reconciliation. As Sheikh Ra’ed’s former thesis advisor and close friend, Dr. Ali has written acknowledgments in many of Sheikh Ra’ed’s books and Fatwas.

Since the establishment of the Religious Peace Initiative, Dr. Ali has worked closely with Sheikh Abdullah, Sheikh Ra’ed and Rabbi Michael Melchior in helping to advance religious peace, attending numerous discreet meetings between senior religious leaders and working to educate a whole generation of Islamic scholars and imams to follow in this path. While Dr. Ali has been very discreet about his involvement in helping to advance religious peace, he has noted in an interview that “it is dangerous to talk to rabbis but I’m convinced it is good for the two sides. We can’t build peace with the political side only. I don’t have any problems with Jewish people on the Israeli side. I respect the Jewish religion. But if fundamentalists grow on both sides, I will be afraid.”92 Feldinger, Lauren Gelfond. “Muslim leaders across the Middle East work with Israeli rabbis to keep the peace,” The Art Newspaper, 1 Jan. 2018,

On August 25, 2020, Dr. Ali gave a talk to religious leaders and educators at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace about his involvement and commitment to religious peace. Dr. Ali told of how he had wondered in the past if there were any religious Israelis who were interested in peace. The following is the story he tells, which touches on his connections with Sheikh Abdullah, Sheikh Ra’ed and Rabbi Melchior:

I had Arab students with Israeli citizenship that lived in Israeli society. And I raised my question to them […]. And then I was surprised: suddenly, a student from the Palestinians of ’48[/Israeli-Arabs] said the ideas I raised were already raised tens of years earlier by someone in Kafr Qasim called Sheikh Abdullah, and he doesn’t see them as a political issue but rather believes in complete faith that there is backing for them in Scripture. Afterwards I began to know one of the people closest to him, who was himself a student of mine: Sheikh Ra’ed Bader. This is how my connection to Sheikh Abdullah began […]. We began meeting together, and I asked him: are there any religious Jews on the Israeli side that believe in complete faith, that we, as religious people, would support peace? If so let’s establish an initiative. And then he told me about Rabbi Melchior […]. The image that we had that was prevalent in the media was that those who want peace and that are likely to agree to a position of peace are the [secular] left, while with regards to the religious there is no hope of peace, that they don’t believe in peace, that this land is holy for them and that there is no possibility that all of it will be for anyone else other than for them. With regards to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it is known to all, that the politicians on both sides started the process. The role of religion was secondary, and this was despite the fact that in the conflict both from the Palestinian side and the Israeli side there exist religious elements. […] Religious peace is what will ensure continuity. Peace will not be built between the governments. We want peace between the people. We want peace that will turn Israel and the Jews into a normal state in the region: it is not over time a positive situation for Israel that it should continue to be known as an occupier of another nation.93 Al-Sartawi, Ali, unpublished recording, 25. Aug, S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.

Picture of Dr. Ali al-Sartawi from his FaceBook

Jewish-Israeli Insider Religious Mediators

Rabbi Menachem Froman

Rabbi Menachem Froman (1945-2013) was rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Tekoa and taught in various religious Zionist yeshivas.

Rabbi Menachem Froman

Rabbi Menachem Froman (1945-2013) was rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Tekoa and taught in various religious Zionist yeshivas.

Rabbi Menachem Froman (b. 1945, Kfar Hassidim/d. 2013, Takoa) was rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Tekoa and taught in various religious Zionist yeshivas.94 For more about Rabbi Menachem Froman see Little, David. “The Settler who Spoke with Arafat: Rabbi Menachem Froman.” In Little, David, editor. Peacemakers in Action: Profiles of Religion in Conflict Resolution, Cambridge University Press, 2007, pp. 341-356 and Shemer, Nesya. “‘God’s most beautiful name is peace’: Rabbi Menachem Froman’s vision of interreligious peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” Israel Affairs, 2021, DOI: 10.1080/13537121.2021.1. Several films have also been made about Rabbi Froman’s peace work. See, for example, the trailer for “Third Way: Settlers and Palestinians as Neighbours,”, and הרב מנחם פרומן מציג את חלומו לשלום בינתדי – תקוע”, [Rabbi Menachem Froman Presents His Vision of Interreligious Peace”], YouTube, uploaded by oded nesher, 10. Apr. 2013, was a staunch supporter of the West Bank settlements and at the same time an indefatigable religious peacebuilder. He was born to a family of Holocaust survivors. Both his parents grew up as ultra-Orthodox Jews (Gerer Hasidim), but on arrival in Israel, they abandoned that path. Rabbi Froman attended the secular Reali school in Haifa and was in his youth involved in the left-wing, secular youth movement (Hanoar Haoved Velomed). He fought in the 1967 Six-Day War in a reserve unit of the paratrooper brigade and was one of the soldiers who liberated the Old City and the Western Wall for Israel. After the war, he studied Jewish and general philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem but abandoned his studies as he became more religious, finally transferring to the primary religious Zionist yeshiva, Yeshivat Mercaz Harav, and eventually achieving ordination as a rabbi. He later moved with his wife Hadassah to the West Bank settlement of Tekoa in Gush Etzion and was among the founders of the religious Zionist settlement movement, Gush Emunim (‘Block of the Faithful’).

Despite his firm belief that the return of the Jewish people to its land was part of the messianic process, he was troubled by how the Palestinians fit into this narrative, eventually coming to the conclusion that part of the messianic redemption process was for Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians to make peace in the Holy Land. Years later, Rabbi Froman related that already in 1991 he had begun meeting with Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, who at the time was sitting in prison in Israel. He was one of the first religious leaders to serve as an insider mediator in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He informally cooperated with Sheikh Abdullah already in the 1990s, working to advance ceasefires between Israel and Hamas as well as the release of hostages, such as the IDF soldier Nachshon Wachsman. Rabbi Froman participated in the Alexandria Summit of Religious Leaders of the Holy Land in 2002 as well as in many of the follow-up gatherings. He worked tirelessly to connect Jewish and Islamic religious leaders and politicians for the purpose of achieving religious peace. He was also among the religious leaders who would reliably and immediately denounce any act of violence against Palestinians or Islamic holy sites, such as the burning of mosques. In addition to his own activity as an insider religious mediator, Rabbi Froman made numerous efforts to establish religious peace movements.

Since his passing, an organization dedicated to his vision of grassroots West Bank religious peacebuilding has been established by his followers, his widow Rabbanit Hadassah Froman and his children, called Roots-Shorashim-Judur. Several West Bank religious Zionist rabbis continue in Rabbi Froman’s path, each bringing their own creativity to the table in advancing religious peace, the most prominent among them being Rabbi Yakov Nagen and Rabbi Moshe David HaCohen. Rabbi Nagen, a rabbi at Yeshivat Otniel in the southern hills of Hebron, has been very active in interreligious dialogue and currently serves as the Director of the Ohr Torah Stone’s Blickle Institute for Interfaith Dialogue and Beit Midrash for Judaism and Humanity.95 For more information about Amanah see HaCohen works on advancing religious peace between Jews and Muslims as the co-director of Amanah in Malmo, Sweden.96 Kershner, Isabel. “From an Israeli Settlement, a Rabbi’s Unorthodox Plan for Peace,” New York Times, 5 Dec. 2008, Rabbi Nagen, a close disciple of Rabbi Froman as noted above, has offered a slightly more concrete plan which he calls “The Abrahamic Union: A Confederate Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” His solution is a combination of the two-state and one-state solutions – to build a model that is similar to the European Union, with an increased shared ethnic and religious identity, which he refers to as the ‘Abrahamic Union.’ See Nagen, Yakov. “The Abrahamic Union: A confederate solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Times of Israel, 29 May 2017,

In terms of political solutions, Rabbi Froman envisioned ‘a humane state’ in which two different states, a Palestinian one and a Jewish one, would share the same territory. With regards to Jerusalem, Rabbi Froman believed that Jerusalem was God’s city and should be above politics and out of the reach of politicians, noting it should be the “capital of peace in the world” run by leaders of the three Abrahamic religions.97 For more information about Meitarim, see their website, For more about the Citizens’ Accord Forum, see their website,

Video of Rabbi Froman speaking [in Hebrew] about religious peace shortly before he passed away in 2013

Rabbi Michael Melchior

Rabbi Michael Melchior (b. 1954, Copenhagen) is a former Israeli MK and Cabinet Minister, the Chief Rabbi of Norway, and head of the religious court of all of Scandinavia, the rabbi of an Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem and the founder and president of several NGOs.

Rabbi Michael Melchior

Rabbi Michael Melchior (b. 1954, Copenhagen) is a former Israeli MK and Cabinet Minister, the Chief Rabbi of Norway, and head of the religious court of all of Scandinavia, the rabbi of an Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem and the founder and president of several NGOs.

Rabbi Michael Melchior (b. 1954, Copenhagen) is a former Israeli Member of Knesset (MK) and Cabinet Minister, the Chief Rabbi of Norway, head of the religious court of all of Scandinavia, the rabbi of an Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem and the founder and president of several NGOs. He was born in Denmark, a descendant of seven generations of Danish rabbis. He studied at Yeshivat HaKotel in the Old City of Jerusalem, where he was ordained in 1980. He served afterward as rabbi of the synagogue in Oslo until 1986 when he returned to Israel with his family to make Jerusalem his home.

In 1999, Rabbi Melchior was elected to Knesset as a representative of the Meimad Party, a left-wing religious Zionist party, taking up senior roles in the heart of government for a decade under PMs Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. During this time, he was, alternatingly, Deputy Foreign Minister, Deputy Minister for Education and Deputy Minister for Israeli Society and the World Jewish Community. He sat in the security cabinet of the Knesset and chaired many committees including The Committee for Education and Culture (2006-2009), The Knesset Caucus for the Environment and The Knesset Caucus for Jewish-Arab Relations (2003-2009).

Since leaving Knesset in 2009, Rabbi Melchior has dedicated his attention to Melchior Social Initiatives, the umbrella organization for the NGOs he has founded. These include Meitarim, a network of over 120 pluralistic Jewish schools and communities in Israel; the Citizens’ Accord Forum, which promotes the building of bridges of coexistence and justice between Israeli-Jews and Israeli-Arabs; and Mosaica’s Religious Peace Initiative, which actively works to build a religious peace between leaders of all religions in the Middle East.98 For examples of Rabbi Melchior speaking about The Religious Peace Initiative in English, see “Rabbi Michael Melchior at Global Summit: Religion, Peace and Security,” YouTube, uploaded by Historical Speeches TV, 20 Aug. 2018, See also, “Religious peace with Rabbi Melchior and Sheikh Bader,” YouTube, uploaded by Citizens’ Accord Forum,, 2 Nov. 2020.

Rabbi Melchior, while having supported the various political peace processes, has also long criticized them for not properly including religious leaders in the process. He was one of the primary organizers of the Alexandria Summit of Religious Leaders of the Holy Land in 2002 as well as the Alicante Summit of Religious Leaders for Peace in the Middle East in 2016. In 2005 he established the Religious Peace Initiative together with Sheikh Abdullah and Sheikh Imad Faluji. Rabbi Melchior has initiated and participated in hundreds of discreet meetings with religious and political leaders with the purpose of advancing religious peace. He has worked hard to prevent and respond to violence such as that in mixed Jewish-Arab cities within Israel, as well as helping to facilitate religious rulings against suicide attacks. He, too, is often among the first religious leaders to respond and denounce acts of violence done against Arabs, Palestinians and Muslims. Rabbi Melchior has also been involved in discreetly mediating crisis situations, such as the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa crisis of 2017, in real time. Rabbi Melchior has been a longtime supporter of the two-state solution. This continued support is grounded both in his political understanding and from his deep belief in and commitment to religious peace as the way toward warm, sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians and the Muslim world in general. In an article from July 2, 2020, he criticized Israel’s initiative to annex parts of the West Bank in the framework of the Trump peace plan, saying:

I can wholeheartedly testify that there has been a huge change in the Muslim world – not only among the political leadership but also almost all of the religiously authentic leadership representing hundreds of millions of our neighbors. There is a readiness for peace with the State of Israel – provided the Palestinian people also receive their own state and independence within the 1967 borders, with reparations and a capital in East Jerusalem. Two states for two nations until the coming of the Messiah, including concern for the safety of all Jews in the State of Israel. Religious leadership has demonstrated its commitment to religious peace in many situations in recent years with our mediation [the Religious Peace Initiative].99 Melchior, Michael. “‘Zion shall be redeemed with Justice:’ Why I oppose annexation,” Times of Israel, 2 Jul. 2020,

Rabbi Melchior speaking about The Religious Peace Initiative, November 2020

In the Press

Rabbanit Adina bar Shalom

Rabbanit Adina Bar Shalom (b. 1945) is the daughter of one of the greatest Sephardi scholars and former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (1920-2013).

Rabbanit Adina bar Shalom

Rabbanit Adina Bar Shalom (b. 1945) is the daughter of one of the greatest Sephardi scholars and former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (1920-2013).

Rabbanit Adina Bar Shalom (b. 1945, Jerusalem) is the daughter of one of the greatest Sephardi scholars and former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (1920-2013). She received Israel’s highest honor, the Israel Prize, for her creation of the Haredi College, a pioneering institution enabling ultra-Orthodox Jews to get a higher education. Her father famously ruled that to prevent bloodshed it was permitted to hand over territory in return for peace, a ruling that led her on a path to work toward advancing religious peace. Rabbanit Adina has expressed support for a two-state solution, arguing that peace should take precedence over land possession and has called for an end to the construction of new settlements and compensation to Palestinians for land that was taken to build settlements. Rabbanit Adina co-directs a group of leading female figures in both the Jewish ultra-Orthodox community and the Islamic Movement, the latter of which are often connected to senior Islamic insider religious mediators. She claims that her father supported her approach, even engaging her at times as an insider mediator for his purposes, when she would serve as a conduit between him and Palestinian and Muslim leaders. For example, she once joined a delegation of insider religious mediators, including Rabbi Froman, Rabbi Melchior and Sheikh Abdullah, in visiting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, carrying a letter from her father.100 See “הרב מנחם פרומן מציג את חלומו לשלום בינתדי”, [“Rabbi Menachem Froman presents his vision of interreligious peace”], YouTube, uploaded by oded nesher, 10 Apr. 2013, (see photo of Rabbanit Adina bar Shalom and other members of the delegation at 3:26).Rabbanit Adina also presented at the UNAOC’s session on “The Role of Religious Leaders in Peacebuilding in the Middle East,” making the following remarks:

In religion, the sanctity of life stands before everything else. There is nothing more holy than the sanctity of life […]. As women, we make up more than fifty percent of the world’s population. We bring life to the world. Life which we nurture and love. And are prepared for any kind of suffering in order to see the joy of those precious to us. We were educated on the importance of peace, [which is o]ne of the names of God. And in order for peace between us to prevail we must educate our children about the importance of peace and on the sanctity of life. In the meetings we have between religious Muslim women and Orthodox Jewish women, we call together for the establishment of peace. It is obvious that at these very special meetings we get much closer in our hearts, we get closer to each other, and this is a very important change in the attitudes between the two religious populations. No doubt that this will [show] also that religion is the key to bringing peace between the two peoples. The ‘Land of Israel’ is acquired through suffering, the ‘Holy Land’ is a place for all of us. I had real joy in hearing the voices of the religious leaders and the real possibility of creating an interreligious peace. I would like to conclude my words with a clarification and a prayer. We are not politicians and we have no aspirations to make [a] political truce or to make a political deal. However, we do want to pursue peace and we want to create the atmosphere that will make peace between the peoples and human beings possible. And in my mouth there is a true prayer that we will fulfill the peace and live in tranquility between the two peoples.101 United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, “The Role of Religious Leaders in Peacebuilding,” 1:19:45 – 1:26:00

Video of Rabbanit Adina Bar Shalom speaking about religious peace at the UN, 2017

Rabbi Avi Gisser

Rabbi Avi Gisser (b. 1954, Bnei Brak) is rabbi of the West Bank religious Zionist settlement of Ofra.

Rabbi Avi Gisser

Rabbi Avi Gisser (b. 1954, Bnei Brak) is rabbi of the West Bank religious Zionist settlement of Ofra.

Rabbi Avi Gisser (b. 1954, Bnei Brak) is rabbi of the West Bank religious Zionist settlement of Ofra. He studied at Yeshivat Mercaz Harav under the personal tutelage of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook (1891-1982), the head of yeshiva and the spiritual father of the settlement movement. Rabbi Gisser holds two BA degrees, one in education and one in law. In 2000, he co-founded Machon Mishpatei Eretz Yisrael (“Institute for the Study of the Laws of the Land of Israel”), which trains rabbinic judges and carries out scholarly research in Jewish law. Since 2004, Rabbi Gisser has served as Chairman of the State Religious Education Council which oversees thousands of religious Zionist schools throughout the country. He is a member of Takana, a forum of senior religious leaders dealing with sexual harassment in the Jewish religious community. In 2019, he ran for election to head the Bayit Hayehudi (“Jewish Home”), the religious Zionist political party. He is a qualified lawyer and mediator. He also holds a teacher’s certificate.

In June 2020, Rabbi Gisser wrote an article in which he expressed support for the Trump Peace Plan as it was, including the annexation of parts of the West Bank, even if it meant the de facto recognition of a Palestinian State. The latter is an issue on which the vast majority of Israel’s right-wing and religious Zionist community are not, unlike Rabbi Gisser, willing to budge. He explains his disagreement on this matter in the following way:102 Gisser, Avi, “ההצהרות אינן חשובות, המעשים בשטח יקבעו,” [“The statements are not important, the actions on the ground will determine.”], Makor Rishon, 7 June 2020.

If a Palestinian state is established as an enclave within the State of Israel, surrounded by Greater Israel and a broad Jewish settlement, after the disarmament of Gaza, after the relinquishment of the right of return and the Palestinian dream and after the recognition of a Jewish state in the whole of Israel, I would be happy to face this reality. For comprehensive and complete Israeli sovereignty.

Rabbi Gisser is a member of the steering committee of the Religious Peace Initiative and played a significant role in past Mosaica educational programs that sought to connect religious Zionists and Islamic Movement teachers and schools. Rabbi Gisser is married to Rabbanit Dr. Yaffa Gisser, a lecturer at Herzog and Ono Academic Colleges, who has also played an active role in advancing religious peace. Rabbi Gisser has participated in every major gathering and event since the inception of the initiative, including the special session of UNAOC on “The Role of Religious Leaders in Peacebuilding in the Middle East”. At the special session, he remarked:

I want to say in a few words what is so special in this coalition. We share one basic idea: when human beings are killing each other in the name of God, then God is crying. If you believe in this idea you are on the road to achieve peace and freedom and [a] world within which all humanity can live with joy and prosperity. This group, we are connecting [sic] a process of hope, here, all of us citizens of the Holy Land. We started this process years ago. This dialogue started in Jerusalem, in the State of Israel, in the whole area. And it makes us partners and an alliance for peace. An alliance from which [sic] a respect for each other and only because we deeply believe in our identity, Judaism and Islam. In our Torah, it is written that the two children of Abraham, or the prophet Ibrahim, al-Halil [sic], that [the children] buried [their father] in the cave in Hebron.

For these two brothers, and these two peoples that we as Jews and Muslims came from, we have a deep historical linkage to the same place, to Hebron and the cave of our fathers. The story about Isaac that [sic] was sacrificed for God in the Torah and the sacrifice of Ismail in the Quran, these two stories take place in the same place, in the Temple Mount and Haram al-Sharif. For this reason, we must come to a critical decision: are we going towards an endless religious war because of these details and this faith, or the opposite? The same places and the same faith orders us to live together and fulfill God’s will in God’s land in what is His will for us, like any father who wants to see his sons live together with respect with equal rights, religious rights and citizen rights and help each other all the time when it is necessary, whether in times of catastrophe and especially in good events. This is the process that started with big hopes years ago, continued in Alicante, Spain, and now this process is coming here to the UN in New York and this support is very important to us […]. We call from here to the UN to support and lead this process. We can do it from our experience with the Mosaica Center, with the Adam Center in the Holy Land. There are ways that the UN can take this process and lead it for hope and for peace.

When we are [sic] all in the days of mourning for Sheikh Abdullah Nimer Darwish, I said there [that] it’s a little miracle that a Jewish rabbi can be in the big town of Kfar Kassem in Israel and to say words in front of the whole crowd that was there in memory of the late Sheikh. And we beg and pray together to continue his way. I am responsible for the formal Jewish religious [Zionist] education in the State of Israel, I am part of this group that begs and prays to continue the way of the Sheikh and all the believers need to go in this way of faith and peace and to bring the people closer to one another. And this is our goal in the world, to make Allah and God Great. We want and believe that the Name of the God will be great and will be held sacred only by peace and respect in the Holy Land, Amen!103 United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, “The Role of Religious Leaders in Peacebuilding,” 1:27:20-1:35:27.

Video of Rabbi Gisser speaking about religious peace at the UN, 2017.