Reacting to a number of high profile sales of Palestinian homes to Jewish organizations in East Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has toughened the penalty for citizens selling property to Israelis.
According to the official Palestinian Wafa news agency, Abbas on Monday imposed a sentence of hard labor for life on “anyone diverting, renting or selling land to an enemy state or one of its subjects.”
Jordan’s penal code number 16 article 114, applicable in the Palestinian territories, previously subscribed “temporary hard labor” to perpetrators of the crime.
Palestinian government and civil society reacted angrily to the recent acquisition of 26 apartments in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan by Elad, an Israeli foundation dedicated to the settlement of Jews in the historic City of David.
On Sunday night, Jews entered 10 apartments in two buildings bought by another Israeli nonprofit, Ateret Kohanim, in a different part of the neighborhood.
The Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported the buildings were sold by their owners to a man named Shams al-Din al-Qawasmi, who sold them to Jewish groups.
An Ateret Kohanim spokesperson said the nonprofit facilitated the purchase on behalf of an overseas company called Kudram. Haaretz reported the purchases were made through a straw man.
In the closing statement of a conference Monday night, Fatah’s Revolutionary Council accused Palestinians who sold their Jerusalem Palestinian properties of “high treason,” calling on the government and legal system to “take the necessary steps to deter them.”
The movement also called on the public to “boycott and humiliate them on all popular levels.” Abbas’s decision was issued immediately afterward.
“Those whose sick souls allowed them to sell their land or homes, or enable such sales to the enemies of the Palestinian people, are a gang of traitors to their nation and religion,” said Fatah spokesman Osama al-Qawasmi in a statement published by Wafa. “They have brought shame and scorn upon themselves in this world and in the afterlife.”
“One would rather die than sell his honor and betray the most sacred land in the world, saturated with the blood of prophets and martyrs throughout history,” he added. “Those traitors are destined to die a humiliating death.”
Indeed, the PLO’s Revolutionary Penal Code (1979) applies the death penalty both to traitors and to those accused of “transferring positions to the enemy.” Since the late 1990s, Palestinian courts have been dealing out death sentences to convicted land dealers, though Abbas has not authorized the implementation of executions since his election in 2004.
But details of the suspected property salesmen of Silwan have been disseminated on Palestinian social media Monday.
While Palestinian law does not apply in East Jerusalem, Bassem Eid, a Jerusalem-based Palestinian civil rights activist, says he has followed cases of Jerusalemites kidnapped in the city and tortured to death in Ramallah by the Palestinian Authority’s Preventive Security Agency.
In 1997, Farid Bashiti, an Israeli citizen, was enticed to Ramallah and murdered for his involvement in property sales. An Israeli court recognized Bashiti as a terror victim in February 2000. Another person, once a resident of the Shuafat refugee camp in Jerusalem, Eid recalled, was abducted from Damascus Gate in the Old City and died of torture in a Ramallah prison.
“I didn’t see Israel raise hell over the arrest of these men,” Eid noted. “If a Jew were kidnapped in Ramallah, I presume Netanyahu would shut the city down.”
According to Eid, the Palestinian Authority takes advantage of Israel’s complacency about Jerusalem residents to intimidate and persecute those suspected of property soliciting. But the new law will do little to stop the phenomenon, he said.
“Those who want to sell land don’t go consulting Abbas,” Eid said. “The PA only finds out about them when they leave the country and go live abroad.”