Palestinian Authority Sentences U.S. National to Life in Prison for Trying to Sell Land to Jews

Issam Akel convicted over 'an attempt to to transfer Palestinian lands to a foreign country' ■ His arrest and indictment signify a worsening in tensions between Israel and Palestinians over issue of land plots' sale

File photo: A man is seen from a window as Israeli flags fly on top of a house in Silwan neighborhood of east Jerusalem, August 27, 2015.
AP

A high court in Ramallah sentenced a Palestinian-American resident of East Jerusalem to life in prison and forced physical labor on Monday after he was convicted of attempting to sell land plots to Jews

According to a statement released by the Palestinian legal establishment's advocacy center, the man, Issam Akel, was indicted for an "attempt to transfer some Palestinian lands to a foreign country."

Akel was arrested some two months ago by Palestinian security forces under suspicion that he collaborated in the sale of properties in East Jerusalem to a non-profit organization run by Jewish settlers.

>> Read more: The Jerusalem house the waited for its Arab neighbors to returnPA court: Sale of Palestinian land to Israelis is punishable by death

Akel's arrest led to an Israeli reaction, with Israel arresting Adnan Rit, the Palestinian Authority's Jerusalem district governor, as well as other Palestinian officials and Fatah members.

Israel also decided to freeze VIP certificates of several Palestinian officials, including the Palestinian attorney general. 

According to the indictment, the 55-year-old Akel formerly served as a clerk at a Palestinan hospital in Jerusalem and was complicit in transferring a property in Jerusalem's Old City to the Ateret Kohanim NGO. 

Akel was arrested in October for suspected involvement in the sale of a house in the Muslim Quarter, near Herod's Gate. 

In a discussion held in the Knesset's Interior Committee, right-wing MKs harshly criticized the police and the Defense Ministry for not releasing Akel from arrest.

"Why don't you pick up the phone and call the responsible person in the PA and tell him that either the guy gets back within an hour or two or buildings start to fall? What if this was a Jew from Tel Aviv?" MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) said. According to Smotrich, Akel arrived at the police station before he left for Ramallah and said he feared for his life. Smotrich added that since Akel is an American citizen, American consular officials have visited him.

MK Yoav Kish (Likud), chairman of the committee, said: "The PA has an apparatus that hunts land sellers who operate in East Jerusalem. We have to root this out. We cannot allow activity that goes against our sovereignty in Jerusalem."

A police representative, who attended the discussion, said he was not familiar with Akel's police visit. "This is not a kidnapping incident. He went to Ramallah himself. Israel Police attempts to prevent PA activity in Jerusalem, including arrests and searches, and we also monitor incitement."

The issue of land sales has become a main source of contention in East Jerusalem in recent months, intensifying tensions between Israel and the PA.