By all accounts, Sheikh Abdullah Tamimi, who hails from an influential clan in Hebron, is an extraordinarily courageous and unique Palestinian. His bravery lies not in rescuing a child from a burning house, and his singularity lies not in donating his salary to an orphanage.
Tamimi's courage and exceptionality showed up in a different sphere: he recently spoke at a seminar organized by Jewish residents of the settlement of Efrat, in Gush Etzion (south of Jerusalem). The seminar was held under the title, "Relations between Jews and Arabs in Gush Etzion." The event was attended by another courageous Palestinian, Khaled Abu Awwad, General Manager of the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum, a grassroots organization that promotes reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge.
Thanks to this courageous move, Tamimi has now been "disowned" by his clan. This is one of the most humiliating forms of punishment in tribal systems: the individual loses the support and protection of the clan and is boycotted socially -- weddings and funerals become very lonely affairs. Moreover, Tamimi is being labelled as a "traitor" and a "collaborator" with Israel.
Tamimi did indeed participate in the seminar. But that is not all. He took with him several Palestinians from the town of Yatta in the Hebron area and the Jelazoun refugee camp near Ramallah.
Encounters between Jewish settlers and Palestinians are not unheard of. Thousands of Palestinians work in most of the settlements and many others maintain close relations with settlers and do business with them on a daily basis. These Palestinians could not care less about the anti-Israel boycott movement or the "anti-normalization" groups operating in the West Bank.
For them, the need to earn their families' bread far outweighs the voices calling for boycotts and divestment. These ordinary Palestinians strive to get on with their lives without the fear of boycott activists' threats.
Tamimi and his colleagues do not believe in boycotts and divestment. They are convinced that real peace can be achieved through dialogue between Palestinians and all Israelis -- not just those who are affiliated with the left-wing. The Israeli left-wing, they contend, does not have a monopoly over peace-making.
For Tamimi, real peace begins between the people and through economic cooperation and improving the living conditions of the Palestinians. This, he explains, is more important than the talk about the establishment of a Palestinian state, which he believes, under the current circumstances, is not a realistic option.
In his speech at the seminar, Tamimi pointed out that peace and calm do not always come from "peaceniks" and leftists.
"In our work, we search for the right-wing in Israel, the hardliners in Israeli society and the settlers to sit and talk with them," he said. "There are many things that they need to know about Islam and the Quran. This dialogue should be the basis for any future solutions."
Insisting that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is political, and not religious, Tamimi told his Jewish audience that many Palestinian groups that claim to represent Islam are not authentic representatives of Islam. "They are using Islam as a bridge to achieve their goals, but in reality they do not represent Islam," he stressed. Tamimi was clearly referring to Hamas and other radical Palestinian Islamist groups, although he did not mention them by name.
Tamimi disclosed that he is currently in touch with thirteen leading Islamic clerics in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to address the daily humanitarian needs of the Palestinian population and bring it to the public's attention. "The humanitarian needs of the people are at the top of our list of priorities," he said. "We do not want bloodshed. We have needs that we are demanding with all available methods." He believes that both Israelis and Palestinians should invest in dialogue, especially between religious leaders from both sides, to talk about shared interests. "We need to sit together and understand each other," he added. "This will help the leaders make decisions. We want both peoples to live a dignified life."
Tamimi's is not a lone voice in the desert. He represents an increasing number of Palestinians who have lost confidence in their leaders' ability to improve their living conditions and achieve peace and stability in the region. These Palestinians support the idea of "economic peace" between the two peoples -- a notion that goes against the ideas of the advocates of "anti-normalization" and others in the West obviously acting against the true interests of the Palestinians by promoting boycott and divestment against Israel.
Ironically, while those hoping to destroy Israel are campaigning for boycotts and other economic harm to it, a growing number of Palestinians are marching in the opposite direction.
Tamimi is not just another ordinary Palestinian. Besides being an Islamic cleric, he also belongs to one of the largest Palestinian clans in Hebron. In these days of unrelenting incitement and indoctrination by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA), it is refreshing to see and hear an Islamic cleric stand up and utter words of true peace. The only Islamic clerics we have seen in recent years are those who preach hate against Israel, Jews and "infidels."
Yet, of course, Tamimi's bold stance does not come without a price. Shortly after the news of the seminar and Tamimi's remarks were broadcast on Israel's Channel 10 TV, a man who claimed to be the leader (mukhtar) of the Tamimi clan issued a statement strongly condemning the "corrupt" cleric for meeting with Jewish settlers.
The man, Hijazi Tamimi, wrote on Facebook that, as the leader of the Hebron clan, he did not authorize any of his family members to meet with settlers:
"As long as I am alive, I will not permit any member of my clan to meet with settlers, no matter what the circumstances. On behalf of myself and the Tamimi clan, we announce our decision to disown the above-mentioned [Abdullah Tamimi], condemn what was mentioned in the TV report and question his credibility. Anyone who wants to discuss political matters should go to the elected president of the Palestinian people, Mahmoud Abbas."
What the clan leader neglected to note was that the "elected" president is now in the 11th year of his four-year term in office. He also forgot to mention that not all Palestinians agree with the policies of Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, and consider boycotts and divestment harmful to the interests of their people. Abbas's repeated rejection of offers to return to the negotiating table, or hold a summit with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu without pre-conditions, was also not noted.
Other members of the clan joined the attack on Abdullah Tamimi and called for punishing him for meeting with settlers. "Who is this guy who claims to be a sheikh?" asked Qassem Tamimi. "This is Rabbi Abdullah. He is not one of us and he has no connection to our clan."
Tamimi is a rare voice of sanity among Palestinian Islamic clerics, most of whom are busy spewing hate towards Israel and Jews from mosques and media outlets.
But Abdullah Tamimi's message reflects the growing discontent with the way Palestinian leaders are handling the affairs of their people. Last week, Palestinians received yet another reminder of the malfeasance of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas governments, with the decision to suspend local elections scheduled for October 8. The decision, taken by the Palestinian High Court, came as no surprise to many Palestinians. It followed weeks of mutual accusations and tensions between the two rival parties, with each side targeting each other's candidates by arresting them, harassing them or disqualifying their lists.
An article published here in July questioned the Palestinians' ability to hold fair and free elections, especially in light of the ongoing tensions between Abbas's Fatah faction and Hamas, and internal squabbling within Fatah. The article also noted that Abbas was embarking on a gigantic gamble by authorizing the local elections.
The Palestinian Authority and Hamas have once again failed their people; they are not even capable of ensuring a free and fair election. Venal leadership has always been the main tragedy of the Palestinians. But it has created a vacuum that provides an opportunity for Palestinians such as Tamimi to search for other alternatives. This, of course, comes as bad news for those who hate Israel and keep hoping to destroy it with boycotts, stabbings, car-rammings and the like. Now the question is, who will triumph: Palestinians and their Jewish neighbors in the West Bank who wish to live in peace, or the anti-Palestinian, anti-Israel, "anti-normalization" activists who seek to derail a true peace at any cost?
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.