PA said to deport Palestinian-American it jailed for selling land to Jews

According to TV report, US and Israeli pressure leads to Issam Akel being handed over to Americans less than 3 weeks after he was sentenced to life in prison

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

A Palestinian-American man who last month was sentenced to life in prison by a Palestinian Authority court for attempting to sell land to Jews has been released and handed over to the Americans, the Kan broadcaster reported Thursday.

Issam Akel, a resident of East Jerusalem who holds a blue Israeli identification card and US citizenship, had been held by the PA for several months. In recent days a secret deal was signed between the PA and US authorities, the report said, and Akel was freed on Tuesday.

A US Embassy official declined to comment on the case, citing “privacy concerns.”

One of Akel’s children said he was unaware that his father had been released.

“I have not been informed my dad was transferred to the Americans,” he told The Times of Israel. “As far as I know, he is still in the hands of the PA.”

Hussein al-Sheikh, the head of the PA’s Civil Affairs Commission, did not respond to a request for comment.

Israeli and US officials had demanded Akel’s release from custody.

A Palestinian boy walks past a wall painted with graffiti reading ‘Death to Israel’ in the northern Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina, July 2008 (Michal Fattal/Flash90)

Akel, a resident of Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina neighborhood, had been arrested in October. On December 31 he was sentenced to life in prison by a Ramallah court.

The US had been heavily pressuring the PA to release Akel, and American officials visited him in jail, Kan reported. The US and the PA reportedly agreed Akel would be sent to the US after the end of legal proceedings.

A Palestinian official told Kan on January 2 that the Palestinian Authority was eager to get Akel off its hands. “We want to finish this saga. He has become a burden upon us,” the official was quoted as saying.

Palestinian law considers attempting to sell or selling land to Israeli Jews a crime. 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, has denied his son sold land to Israeli Jews.

The PA rarely arrests and carries out judicial proceedings against residents of Jerusalem who hold Israeli ID cards.

There are indications that Israel attempted to pressure the PA over the issue by arresting Palestinian officials in Jerusalem in recent months.

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

The Palestinian ID card of an East Jerusalem resident who police said illegally worked for the PA security forces, seen on November 26, 2018. (Israel Police)

Israeli security forces have also temporarily 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.

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 earlier this month.

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

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

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