PA court sentences Palestinian-American to life for attempting land sale to Jews
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PA court sentences Palestinian-American to life for attempting land sale to Jews

Issam Akel, a resident of East Jerusalem, holds a blue Israeli national identification card; US ambassador has called for his release

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Issam Akel (Screenshot/Wattan News Agency)
Issam Akel (Screenshot/Wattan News Agency)

A Palestinian Authority court in Ramallah on Monday sentenced Issam Akel, a Palestinian American and a resident of East Jerusalem, to life in prison for attempting to sell land to Jewish Israelis in Jerusalem, an official in the PA judiciary’s media office said.

Akel “was sentenced on Monday, but he can appeal the ruling,” the official, who asked to remain unnamed, told The Times of Israel.

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.

Akel, a resident of Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina neighborhood, is a holder of a blue Israeli identification card. The official said the PA arrested him October and has since held him in its custody.

Palestinians demonstrate in front of the High Court in the West Bank city of Ramallah on September 21, 2016, calling on authorities not to postpone the local elections. (AFP/ABBAS MOMANI)

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.

Akel’s father, Jalal, denied in late November that his son had sold land to Israeli Jews.

“There is no evidence my son sold anything to Israelis, all charges are void,” Jalal told Reuters at the time.

Tourists look at the view of the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount from the lookout of the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old city of Jerusalem, on November 28, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jalal did not answer phone calls Monday afternoon.

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.

Since Akel’s arrest, Israel has collared and then released PA Jerusalem Governor Adnan Ghaith a few times.

Israeli security forces have also arrested 32 East Jerusalem residents on suspicion of supporting and serving in the PA security forces. According to a police statement, the suspects were Israeli residents and some were receiving social benefits from the state while also serving in the PA’s armed forces.

The statement said the activities were illegal under the 1994 Gaza-Jericho agreement, a follow-up treaty to the Oslo Accords. All 32 East Jerusalem residents were later released.

Illustrative: Palestinian police take part in a training session of the Palestinian special police force in the West Bank city of Ramallah in 2014. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Israel also halted security coordination with the PA in parts of the West Bank adjacent to Jerusalem in recent weeks, a PA security official, who asked to remain nameless, said in a phone call on Monday.

“It’s been totally frozen there,” the official said.

The Kan broadcaster suggested the cooperation freeze was also linked to Akel’s arrest.

Security coordination allows for the PA to operate in villages adjacent to Jerusalem, where it does not have a permanent security presence.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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