On Monday, a Palestinian-American, a U.S. citizen who had been arrested in October for selling a house in the Old City of Jerusalem to a Jewish Israeli organization, was sentenced to life in prison by a Palestinian court in Ramallah.
According to The Forward, the man’s arrest came after he was summoned to Ramallah. The Forward wrote, “Issam Aqel responded to a PA summons to appear in Ramallah where he was called in to ‘sign paperwork.’ But once he appeared, Aqel wasn’t allowed to leave. According to people who have been in touch with him, he was tortured.” As The Jerusalem Post notes, “As a resident of east Jerusalem, he holds an Israeli ID card that gives him immunity against being arrested or prosecuted in a PA court.”
The Jerusalem Post stated: “Akel was accused of acting as a broker in the sale of a house jointly owned by the Alami and Halabi families in the Muslim Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. Palestinians claimed that the house was sold for $500,000 to Ateret Kohanim, a Jewish organization that has been purchasing Arab-owned properties in east Jerusalem for several years.” The PA’s official news agency Wafa asserted Akel was convicted of “selling a house to the enemy in Jerusalem.”
According to Yifa Segal, an attorney specializing in International Law and Human Rights Law and the Executive Director of the International Legal Forum, her organization contacted the U.S. Embassy, prompting U.S. ambassador David Friedman to contact the Palestinian Authority (PA) and ask for Aqel’s release. Back in November, Friedman had tweeted, “Aqel’s incarceration is antithetical to the values of the US & to all who advocate the cause of peaceful coexistence. We demand his immediate release.”
But the PA dismissed Friedman’s request, although Aqel was permitted to telephone his wife and an American official was permitted to visit him. Both his wife and the official confirmed Aqel had been tortured, according to The Forward.
Meanwhile, Segel tried contacting German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other German, UK and EU officials, but did not elicit any response. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International remained silent in response to her efforts.
As Shoshanna Keats-Jaskoll writes in The Forward of a man she calls “Ali” in order to protect his identity:
Ali is one of 52 so-called “collaborators” who were arrested and tortured in the 1990s and early 2000s. In the PA, collaborating with Israeli security forces is illegal, despite the fact that the Oslo accords call for security collaboration between the Authority and Israel. Over the years, many men and women have been accused of being “collaborators” and tortured and killed for their crimes.
Keats-Jaskoll adds, “The 52 ‘collaborators’ were freed by the IDF during Operation Defensive Shield, an Israeli military operation which tackled the suicide-bomber infrastructure in 2002.” She delineates the failure of any human rights organizations to document what had happened to the 52 men, who sued the PA. The only groups that would document the alleged torture were the Institute for Zionist Strategies, Regavim, The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, and Honeinu.
Finally, 14 years later, the Jerusalem District Court found the PA guilty and awarded the men and their families $3.5 million.