(photo credit: REUTERS)
US Ambassador David M. Friedman has demanded the immediate release of Isaam Akel, a Palestinian-American arrested by the Palestinian Authority security forces two months ago for engaging in a real estate transaction with Jews in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.
“Akel’s incarceration is antithetical to the values of the US & to all who advocate the cause of peaceful coexistence,” said Friedman on Twitter. “We demand his immediate release.”
Palestinian sources said Akel, a resident of Bethlehem, had worked for the PA Ministry for Local Government.
“The 55-year-old man, who is a US citizen, is being interrogated by the Palestinians security agencies in Ramallah for his role in the sale of an Arab-owned house in the Old City of Jerusalem to a Jewish organization,” sources told The Jerusalem Post upon Akel’s arrest.
They said that the man arrested was suspected of acting as a “solicitor” between the owner of the house and Ateret Cohenim, a yeshiva group that has long been purchasing Arab-owned property in the east Jerusalem and the Old City, which reportedly purchased the house in the Old city of Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter.
A senior PA security official in Ramallah refused to comment on Akel’s arrest and detention.
US government officials said they were aware of the arrest and expressed concern that he would be treated fairly. They said the State Department was in touch with the PA regarding the arrest.
Last week, the Palestinian Islamic religious authorities in east Jerusalem reaffirmed a fatwa
(religious decree) prohibiting Palestinians from selling their houses and lands to Israelis
. Some Palestinians have called for imposing the death penalty on those who violate the ban.
One source told the Post
that Akel received $25,000 for brokering the sale of the house, which belonged to a Palestinian widow. The source said it was unclear whether Akel was involved in the recent sale of a second property in the Muslim Quarter to Ateret Cohanim.
Earlier this month, several Jewish families moved into the Joudeh family house, triggering a wave of protests among many Palestinians. The PA government recently announced that it has formed a commission of inquiry to investigate how the house was sold to the Jewish organization.
The Joudeh family has strongly denied selling their house to Ateret Cohanim. Members of the family said they sold the house to Khaled al-Atari, a businessman from east Jerusalem with close ties to the PA’s Mukhabarat (General Intelligence Force) headed by Gen. Majed Faraj.
The family said it originally sold the house to Fadi Elsalameen, a Palestinian ex-pat living in the US, but canceled the contract after he failed to pay the agreed sum. Elsalameen is believed to be closely associated with deposed Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan, an arch-enemy of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Elsalameen claimed the PA exerted pressure on the Joudeh family to cancel the transaction and sell the house instead to Atari. He has also accused Faraj and the PA General Intelligence Force of facilitating the sale of the house, which is located a few hundred meters from the Temple Mount, to Ateret Cohenim.
The Joudeh family has published a copy of the deed issued by the Justice Ministry’s Land Title Register Authority (Tabu) showing the ownership of the house was transferred to Atari on August 23, 2018.
That same day, ownership was flipped to an overseas company called Daho Holdings Ltd., according to the document.
Atari, an east Jerusalem businessman, has failed to explain how the house ended up being registered under the name of a foreign company, which apparently acted as a front on behalf of Ateret Cohenim.
Last week, Palestinian activists in east Jerusalem summoned Atari and a representative of the Joudeh family for what some Palestinians described as a kangaroo court in an attempt to find out who sold the house to Ateret Cohanim. A video of the “court” hearing posted on Facebook has gone viral, with many Palestinians calling for the “execution” of those involved in the transaction for “high treason.”
On November 22, Israel Police arrested east Jerusalem residents Abdullah Alqam, Fadi Mtur and Kamal Abu Kweider on suspicion of incitement for their role in organizing the “court” hearing and threatening Atari. The three were arrested hours before a second “court” session was scheduled to convene.
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