East Jerusalem
Issam Akel
Issam Akel

US President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman has demanded that the Palestinian Authority release an American citizen that it effectively kidnapped for selling his eastern Jerusalem property to Jews.

Issam Akel, who is a Palestinian Arab resident of Jerusalem as well as a US citizen, was “arrested” by PA security forces in October after word got out of his “crime.”

Friedman tweeted that the Palestinian leadership’s behavior in this case demonstrated a total lack of the kind of peaceful intentions and democratic rights that the international community expects of a future Palestinian state.

The Palestinian Authority’s Predicament

The sale of property and lands to Jews is of particular concern to the Palestinian Authority, who considers this as part of Israel’s plan to “Judaize” the Old City of Jerusalem, especially in the areas close to the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount and David’s City.

In the wake of the sale of the Joudeh family house to Jews, the Palestinian Authority launched a broad campaign on social media against selling property to Jewish buyers.

According to details from the Palestinian Information Center in Silwan, during the period from 2014 until October 2018, 44 Palestinian homes were sold to Jews in the Old City of Jerusalem and the village of Silwan nearby.

During 2015, two houses in Silwan were sold to Jews, three were sold in 2016, one in 2017, and two more in 2018.

In an attempt to put an end to the sales, the Palestinian Authority has managed to convert the issue of selling houses to Jews from a political issue into a tribal-family matter.

Senior Fatah official Bilal Al-Natsheh, leader of the PA Popular Council in Jerusalem, stated that selling property and land to Jews is “a big national betrayal” and that it is necessary to deal from a legal and national perspective with anyone who sells.

He called upon the Palestinian Authority to investigate all transactions involving the sale of homes to Jews in Jerusalem and to prosecute the sellers.

The Joudeh family house in Jerusalem’s Old City (Facebook, Askar Elbalad)

Due to PA pressure, several large clans in east Jerusalem, including al-Husseini, al-Dajani, Nashashibi, Abu Jabal, Abu Tsawi, al-Budeiri, and several others, held meetings in the neighborhoods of Ras al-Amud, Shuafat, Jabel Mukaber, and Silwan to discuss the phenomenon of selling land and houses to Jews.

Sheikh Abd el-Majid Ramadan, mukhtar of Beit Hanina al-Tahta, called for action against the sellers and for penalties against them that would act as a deterrent and teach them a lesson.

On October 14, 2018, representatives of several east Jerusalem families gathered in Shuafat to draw up a strategy for combating the sale of lands and properties to Jews. During the meeting, it was decided to remove the protection of families or clans from anyone selling houses to Jews and to have them killed.

The Al-Rifai family issued a warning that anyone intending to sell or buy a written permit for any of its houses or lands must report to the family council and receive written authorization. If this is not done, this person must take responsibility and suffer the consequences of this omission.

Sheikh Yacoub Al-Rajbi, one of the senior members of the family, stated that what pushed the family to take this decision was because collaborators have been selling land to Jews.  “This is a dangerous thing, and I want to preserve my family’s reputation and good name,” he explained.

The Al-Abdin family in east Jerusalem also published its official opinion, stating that it wanted the members of the family to be very careful about selling property or land to anyone and to consult with senior relatives, otherwise it would not be responsible for any mistakes made.

In this announcement, the family warned that anyone who sold homes to Jews would be punished and the family would remove its protection.

In the town of A-Ram in north Jerusalem, there was a big meeting of the members of the Al-Natsheh clan, in which family members were warned against selling property and land to Jews.

The Palestinian Authority is under considerable pressure as a result of this phenomenon, and it is highly doubtful that they will be able to prevent it. The sums offered for these homes by Jewish organizations active in east Jerusalem are very high, creating a big financial temptation.

The struggle for east Jerusalem is in full force. Jewish organizations are legally purchasing Palestinian homes, and the Palestinian Authority has no legal means to prevent it. A Palestinian who is in a financial crisis and in need of a large cash sum can always be found.

For this reason, the Palestinian Authority is acting through its intelligence services to intimidate the residents of east Jerusalem and deter them.  Such activity is unlawful and in clear breach of the Oslo Accords. As a result of its powerlessness in the face of this phenomenon, the Palestinian Authority is now trying to activate tribal-social forces in an effort to limit it. However, it will not put a stop to it completely.

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.