The U.S. ambassador to Israel called on the Palestinians on Wednesday to free an American-Palestinian who was detained for “selling land to a Jew,” apparently violating a long-standing Palestinian ban on selling land to Israelis.
Through its official Wafa news agency, the Palestinian Authority has accused property dealer Issam Akel, a U.S. citizen, of attempting to sell a property in east Jerusalem without permission of his business partners or the authorities. The Wafa report did not identify the intended buyer.
Palestinian law bars selling land to “a hostile state or any of its citizens,” and requires the permission of the Palestinian Authority for all land sales in east Jerusalem.
Land sales in the Palestinian territories, including east Jerusalem, are highly fraught for Palestinians, who see Israeli efforts to buy up land as part of a plot to cement control.
“The Palestinian Authority has been holding U.S. citizen Issam Akel in prison for 2 months. His suspected ‘crime’? Selling land to a Jew,” U.S. Ambassador David Friedman wrote on Twitter.
“Akel’s incarceration is antithetical to the values of the U.S. and to all who advocate the cause of peaceful coexistence. We demand his immediate release.”
Osama al-Qawasme, an official from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, rejected Friedman’s remarks and called the U.S. envoy “an ambassador of the settlers.”
“We deplore his statement that Akel’s arrest violated American values. Does building of settlements adhere to American values?” al-Qawasme said. “We in Fatah will confront all attempts to harm the city of Jerusalem or its sacred places.”
Akel’s father, Jalal, said a Palestinian court had extended his son’s detention by 45 days on Monday.
“They are stalling. There is no evidence my son sold anything to Israelis, all charges are void,” he said.
Maj. Gen. Adnan Al-Dmairi, a spokesman for the Palestinian security forces, said 20 people had been arrested in recent years on suspicion of violating land laws.
An Israeli security official said Akel was detained on Oct. 10 in Ramallah, the hub city of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
Israel said its security services had appealed to their Palestinian counterparts for Akel’s release.
Israel briefly arrested two Palestinian Authority officials from East Jerusalem over the last month on the basis of what the Israeli security official said were suspicions that they had information on Akel’s detention.