When a Deed Is a Death Sentence

Reports late last week that the Palestinian Authority had released Issam Akel seem to have been in error.

The 53-year-old American citizen, who lived in the U.S. for 12 years and much of whose family live here, currently resides in Israel and once worked for the P.A. His former employer, however, arrested him more than two months ago, because he allegedly had acted as a middleman between an Arab seller of a home located in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Yerushalayim and a Jewish organization that purchased it.

The P.A. considers selling land to Jews to be a crime punishable by death. While no official executions are known to have been carried out in such cases, Human Rights Watch has asserted that extrajudicial killings related to the violation of the law have been reported, sometimes with tacit P.A. approval.

Mr. Akel, who was seized by the P.A.’s General Intelligence Service, was taken to the Palestinian interrogation facility in Ramallah, where he was reportedly tortured by his jailers.

Last Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman called for the prisoner to be freed, tweeting that “Akel’s incarceration is antithetical to the values of the U.S. & to all who advocate the cause of peaceful coexistence. We demand his immediate release.”

According to the terms of the Oslo Accords, P.A. activity within Israel proper is severely restricted, and since Mr. Akel’s arrest was said to have been facilitated by the Palestinian Authority’s “Yerushalayim Governor,” Adnan Gheith, Israeli authorities detained and indicted him for having violated that law. Mr. Gheith has been arrested twice before for his involvement in illegal activities in Yerushalayim.

Israel has also issued a stay of exit order, preventing travel outside of Israel, on Adnan Husseini, the P.A.’s minister for Jerusalem affairs, who is also alleged to have been involved in the persecution of Arabs for selling lands to Jews in eastern Yerushalayim. And the commander of the PA General Intelligence Service in the Yerushalayim area, Jihad Faqeeh, was arrested as well by the IDF, likewise for alleged involvement in such cases.

Israeli police also arrested a number of suspects from eastern Yerushalayim who had illegally joined the ranks of the Palestinian Authority Security Services, in violation of the law. A search of the suspects’ homes turned up tens of thousands of shekels, training certificates from the Palestinian police, uniforms, military equipment and various types of ammunition.

The grand mufti of Yerushalayim, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, condemned Geith’s arrest and the measures taken against PA officials in the city as “unfair” and a “flagrant violation of international and humanitarian laws.”

There were calls in the Knesset and among the Israeli citizenry for Israel to go further and raid the detention facility where Mr. Akel was being held.

Several Knesset members questioned whether Israel would have shown the same restraint if a Jew from Tel Aviv had been abducted instead of an Arab from eastern Yerushalayim.

If Mr. Akel is in fact released from his imprisonment, whether by his captors or an Israeli raid, it will represent a happy ending to his personal saga. But the larger issue —the campaign of fear orchestrated by the P.A. against Arabs in Israel for the “crime” of selling land to Jews — remains a festering sore, and a telling example of why the P.A. is not truly interested in peace.

In recent weeks, its security forces have been waging a campaign against eastern Yerushalayim residents suspected of involvement in the sale of houses to Jews, and it formed a commission of inquiry into the recent sale of a house belonging to the Joudeh family in the Old City to an Israeli Jewish organization. The Palestinian religious authorities in the city have also renewed a fatwa prohibiting the sale of Arab-owned properties to Jews.

The P.A. is also trying to intimidate the residents of eastern Yerushalayim by enlisting tribal-social forces.

Representatives of several eastern Yerushalayim families gathered in Shuafat several weeks ago 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.

It is unheard of for a government, much less a less-than-government like the P.A., to forbid the free sale of private property. And nothing short of outrageous to consider any such sales as a capital crime.

If anything is “unfair” and a “flagrant violation of international and humanitarian laws,” it is the P.A.’s stance, not Israel’s actions to protect innocent Arabs.