The father of a Palestinian-American man sentenced in a Ramallah court to life in prison on charges of attempting to sell land to Israeli Jews said on Monday the ruling was surprising, but refrained from directly criticizing the verdict, even while maintaining his son’s innocence.
“What happened was a surprise. We knew there was a trial happening, but we didn’t know this would happen,” Jalal Akel, Issam Akel’s father, said in a phone call, referring to his son’s sentencing.
A Palestinian Authority court in Ramallah sentenced the younger Akel, a resident of East Jerusalem and in his 50s, to life in prison for attempting to sell land to Israeli Jews in Jerusalem, an official in the PA judiciary’s media office said.
Akel “was sentenced on Monday, but he can appeal the ruling,” an official in the PA judiciary’s media office, who asked to remain unnamed, said in a phone call.
A report on the PA judiciary’s website said an individual with the same initials as Akel was sentenced to life in prison for attempting “to annex part of the Palestinian lands to an alien state.”
The official confirmed that the report on the PA judiciary’s website was referring to Akel.
Jalal Akel firmly denied that his son sold land to Jewish Israelis. “He absolutely did not do that,” he said.
Asked his opinion of the verdict, though, Jalal Akel refused to criticize the court. “I am not a judge or a lawyer,” he said.
Issam Akel, a resident of Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina neighborhood, is a holder of a blue Israeli identification card. The official in the PA judiciary’s media office said the PA arrested him October and has since held him in its custody.
The PA rarely arrests and carries out judicial proceedings against residents of Jerusalem who hold Israeli ID cards.
Asked about Akel’s sentencing, a US official said the American government had knowledge of reports about it.
“We are aware of reports that a US citizen has been sentenced by a Palestinian court. When a US citizen is incarcerated abroad, the US government works to provide all appropriate consular assistance,” the official said in a statement.
Palestinian law considers attempting to sell or selling land to Israeli Jews a punishable offense. According to the law, possible punishments for trying to sell or selling land to Jewish Israelis include various degrees of hard labor and imprisonment as well as execution.
However, the law requires that PA President Mahmoud Abbas approve any death sentence, and he has not signed off on any executions since 2006.
In November, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman called on Ramallah to release Akel.
“The Pal Authority has been holding US citizen Isaam Akel in prison for ~2 months,” Friedman tweeted on November 28. “His suspected ‘crime’? Selling land to a Jew. Akel’s incarceration is antithetical to the values of the US & to all who advocate the cause of peaceful coexistence. We demand his immediate release.”
There are indications that Israel has attempted to pressure the PA over the issue by arresting members of the group in Jerusalem in recent months.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.