Months after being held in the Palestinian Authority’s custody, Issam Akel, a Palestinian-American resident of east Jerusalem, was sentenced to life in prison with hard labor this week after he was found guilty of attempting to sell a house to a Jewish organization.
After a weeklong trial, the Palestinian Grand Criminal Court found Akel guilty on Monday of trying to “cut off a part of the Palestinian land and adding them to a foreign country,” the Jerusalem Post reported.
Bylaws established by the Palestinian Authority (PA) prohibit the sale of land to a “hostile state or any of its citizens.” PA bylaws require residents to obtain permission from the PA itself before carrying out these types of transactions.
Akel reportedly acted as the broker in the sale of the home, jointly owned by the Alami and Halabi families and located in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem. According to the Post, the home fetched the owners a whopping $500,000 from Ateret Cohanim, an Israeli Jewish organization known to purchase Arab-owned properties in the area.
Presently, the bank accounts of Akel and the two families have been frozen by the PA.
“What happened was a surprise,” Jalal Akel, Issam Akel’s father, said in a phone conversation with the Times of Israel. “We knew there was a trial happening, but we didn’t know this would happen.”
“He absolutely did not do that [sell land to an Israeli organization],” Jalal Akel stressed.
David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, previously criticized Akel’s detainment, tweeting in late November that “Akel’s incarceration is antithetical to the values of the US & to all who advocate the cause of peaceful coexistence.”
According to the Jerusalem Post, it remains unclear just how Akel was arrested by PA security personnel, as he holds an Israeli ID card that gives him immunities from either being arrested or prosecuted in a PA courtroom. Mixed reports suggest that Akel was either detained while in Ramallah or kidnapped in east Jerusalem.
An investigation into Akel’s arrest is ongoing by both Israeli and American parties. “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,” an unidentified US official told the Times of Israel.
Akel, who can appeal the conviction, has been in the PA’s custody since October.
Source: News Agencies