Human Rights

U.S. Citizen Sentenced to Life In Prison by Palestinian Authority for Selling Land to Jews

The Palestinian Authority (PA) sentenced Issam Akel, a United States citizen, to life in prison for the crime of selling land to Jews, The Jerusalem Post reported Monday.

Akel, who is a resident of Jerusalem, had been arrested in October, though the circumstances of the arrest still remain unclear.

According to some accounts, Akel was arrested when he was staying in Ramallah. However, other reports claim that he was kidnapped from Jerusalem and taken to Ramallah.

Akel holds an Israeli identification card that should have provided him with immunity from arrest and prosecution by the PA.

The Palestinian Grand Criminal Court ruled that Akel was guilty of “attempting to cut off a part of the Palestinian land and adding them to a foreign country,” following a one-week trial.

He was accused of facilitating the sale of a house in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem belonging to two families to Yeshivat Ateret Kohanim. The house, according to Palestinian sources, sold for $500,000.

The verdict was described by the Post as part of the “PA’s campaign to deter Palestinians from selling properties to Jews.” Such transactions are regarded as “high treason” and can carry the death penalty.

The sentence was pronounced despite protests against Akel’s arrest by both the U.S. and Israel.

In November, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman characterized Akel’s arrest as “antithetical to the values of the US and all those who advocate the cause of peaceful coexistence.” He also called for Akel’s immediate release.

In January 2016, an Israeli activist, Ezra Nawi, was exposed on an investigative television show boasting that he had given names and pictures of Palestinian land dealers to the PA’s security services. Nawi was indicted this past July for cooperating with Palestinian security forces.

In 2010, the Associated Press reported that a Palestinian court determined that the death penalty should be imposed for any Palestinian guilty of selling land to Jews. Previously, it was at the court’s discretion to choose between “life in prison or death.”

In May 1997, the PA’s justice minister, Freih Abu Meddein, stated that Palestinians selling land to Jews should be subject to the death penalty. In the subsequent weeks, at least four Arab suspected of doing so were murdered. In October 1997, the Palestinian Legislative Council passed a law declaring such sales to be “high treason,” though the law was never ratified by Yasser Arafat.

[Photo: ILTV ISRAEL DAILY / YouTube ]