A general view of the Damascus Gate, which leads to the Old City's Muslim Quarter, July 21 2017.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Palestinian Authority is facing sharp criticism from Palestinians following reports that it has released a Palestinian-American man who was recently sentenced to life in prison for his role in the sale of an Arab-owned house in Jerusalem to a Jewish organization.
A Palestinian security source confirmed to the Qatari-owned Al-Araby Al-Jadeed online news website that Isaam Akel, a resident of east Jerusalem who was arrested by the PA security forces in October 2018, was released from prison last week.
According to the report, Akel was handed over to US officials at the headquarters of the PA’s General Intelligence Service on January 15.
The arrest of Akel was first reported by The Jerusalem Post
“We came under heavy pressure from the Israeli occupation and the US to hand over Akel,” the source said. “There was a serious threat to storm the place where he was being held.”
In late December, a PA court in Ramallah sentenced the 53-year-old Akel to life in prison with hard labor for his role in the real estate transaction with a Jewish organization.
Palestinians first became aware of the release of Akel from a report by Gal Berger, Palestinian affairs Correspondent for the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation KAN. Berger reported last week that Akel was released as part of a secret agreement between between the PA and the US.
He quoted an unnamed US official as saying: “Due to privacy concerns, we are unable to comment on the case.”
The PA has thus far refused to comment on the reports about Akel’s release.
US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, last month called on the PA to release Akel immediately.
“The Palestinian Authority has been holding US citizen Isaam Akel in prison for two months,” he said. “His suspected ‘crime?’ Selling land to a Jew. Akel’s incarceration is antithetical to the values of of the US and to all who advocate the cause of peaceful coexistence. We demand his immediate release.”
On Sunday, Hamas strongly condemned the reports about the release of Akel and accused the PA of committing a “big national crime.” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called for holding accountable those responsible for the release of the Palestinian-American citizen.
Many Palestinians took to social media to condemn the PA over the reported release of Ake. They expressed fear that the move would encourage other Palestinians to sell their properties to Jews.
“The Palestinian Authority made a mistake,” said Rasem Obeidat, a political analyst from east Jerusalem. “The decision paves the way for any Jerusalem resident with US citizenship to sell more properties in Jerusalem, without fearing punishment.”
Hiba al-Natsheh, a political activist from Hebron, commented: “For the first time in history, a life sentence lasts for only a few weeks.”
Several Palestinians pointed out that Akel was released while the PA continues to hold many Palestinians in prison for “politically-motivated offenses.” Issa Amro, a prominent activist from Hebron, called on PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to resign and accused him of bringing shame upon the Palestinians.
Other Palestinians said that if true, the release of Akel was an indication that the PA leadership's talk about rejecting Trump's yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East should not be taken seriously.