A Palestinian Authority (PA) court in Ramallah has sentenced a U.S. citizen to life in prison with hard labor today for the crime of selling property to Jews, a capital offense in the PA.
Issam Akel, 53, a U.S. citizen and a holder of an Israeli national identity card, was abducted by PA intelligence on October 11 in Ramallah. According to Reuters, the PA court’s media office said Akel was convicted of “attempting to sever parts of Palestinian land and annex it to a foreign state,” namely Israel.
“In light of the conviction, the court handed down a life sentence with hard labor,” the court ruled.
The Jerusalem Post reported that Akel is accused of receiving a $25,000 commission for the sale of a Palestinian widow’s home to Ateret Cohanim, an Israeli group that has been purchasing properties in East Jerusalem and the Old City. Akel, who lives in Jerusalem, had previously worked for the PA.
U.S Ambassador David M. Friedman called for Akel’s release last month:
An official with the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem said the embassy was aware of the PA court’s verdict, and was providing consular services to Akel.
In response to Akel’s abduction, a number of PA officials were arrested last month by the Israeli government. Included in these arrests was Adnan Geith, the governor of the Jerusalem District of the Palestinian Authority, whom Israeli authorities believe was directly involved in Akel’s abduction.
The PA’s Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Adnan Husseini, who has advocated for Akel’s continued detention, has been banned from foreign travel. Husseini has been accused of targeting Palestinians for selling property to Israelis.
Following Akel’s abduction in October, the PA’s religious council issued a fatwa ruling that Palestinians selling property to non-Muslims would be considered an act of “high treason,” adding that such sales are “a great betrayal of religion, the homeland, and morals.”
PA laws prohibit any sales of property to any Israeli person or corporation.
Earlier this month, a Palestinian man who was accused of selling property to Jews was gunned down in his West Bank town. Ahmed Salama, a resident of Jaljulia who was wanted by the PA for alleged property sales, was murdered near his home on December 7.