While some of Israel's critics accuse it of engaging in apartheid policies against the Palestinians, in fact a Palestinian law prevents the sale of land to Jews and even carries the death penalty.
The arguably racist policy is gaining some attention after a retired Palestinian security officer suspected of selling land to Israelis either fell or was pushed out a third floor window to his death Sunday while in police custody.
The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reports:
Osama Hussein Mansour, 49, was killed when he jumped from the third floor of a building that serves as headquarters of the PA’s Military Intelligence force.
A PA [Palestinian Authority] security source said that Mansour was arrested three weeks ago for collaboration with Israel and involvement in land transactions with Israelis.
The source said Mansour had been in charge of a department that was created by the PA to prevent Palestinians from selling lands to Israelis.
“We discovered that the man who was responsible for thwarting such land deals was himself involved in such transactions,” the source told The Jerusalem Post.
Mansour’s family believes he was killed in a vigilante act, not by suicide. His wife is calling the circumstances “suspicious” and tells the Maan News Agency that he was in good spirits and telling jokes during a family visit on Friday. A Palestinian security source tells AFP that he does not know if Mansour fell or was pushed out the window of the security building, but an official investigator tells AP that there is security camera footage to prove that Mansour jumped. He says the Palestinian Authority plans to release the footage to the public.
Under Palestinian Authority law, Palestinians are prohibited from selling any land to Israeli individuals or corporations or to middle men working on behalf of Israelis. On the books, the crime is punishable by death. AP reports that authorities have not carried out executions for this crime; however, Palestinian civilians have engaged in extrajudicial killings of suspected “collaborators” who have sold land or houses to Israelis. Some Israelis have compared the policy to the Nazi strategy of establishing areas “cleansed” of Jews, or in German, judenrein.
As a result of the dangers to Arabs involved in land sales, real estate transactions with Jews wanting to purchase land in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) are extremely secretive and can include a witness protection-like program. Prices can be exorbitant, with middlemen cloaking the identities of buyers and sellers, and sometimes involve payment for travel and new housing for the sellers overseas, far from the danger of local vigilantes. It also makes land ownership difficult to prove, as it is safer for sellers to deny transactions with Jews. AP reports that “scams are commonplace.”
AP provides more details on Mansour’s involvement in the land purchase fight:
Mansour’s job was to track Palestinians who sold land to Israelis, and the case is training a spotlight on the murky world of secret West Bank land deals. Israelis often try to buy Palestinian-owned land in the West Bank and east Jerusalem to strengthen their hold on territories the Palestinians want for their state. […]
Mansour, who worked in the attorney general’s office, was given large sums by the Palestinian Authority to buy back land sold to Israelis whenever possible, said Abdel-Latif al-Aidi, an official leading the investigation into Mansour’s death.
More than three weeks ago, Mansour was arrested on suspicion he pocketed some of that money by claiming he had successfully bought back property when he had not.
According to AP, 141 Palestinians are presently in Palestinian prison for selling land to Israelis.
In April, Muhammad Abu Shahala was sentenced to death for selling a house to Jews in Hebron, the city that is home to the Cave of the Patriarchs where Jews believe the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah are buried.
According to Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick, the first law the Palestinian Authority adopted when it was established in 1994 “defined selling land to Jews as a capital offense.” She wrote in April:
Shortly thereafter scores of Arab land sellers began turning up dead in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria in both judicial and extrajudicial killings.
Glick reported that in a letter to world leaders appealing for mercy on Shalala, Hebron’s Jewish community leaders wrote:
"The very fact that such a 'law' exists within the framework of the PA legal system points to a barbaric and perverse type of justice, reminiscent of practices implemented during the dark ages."
They compared the Palestinian Authority law prohibiting land sales to Jews to Nazi Germany's Nuremburg laws making any trade between Jews and Germans illegal.
This sensitivity explains why Israeli officials protested so vehemently after PLO Ambassador to the U.S. Maen Areikat last year suggested any future Palestinian state would be free of Jews, saying “it would be in the best interest of the two people to be separated." He later clarified that he meant “Israelis” not “Jews,” but with the majority of Israelis being members of the Jewish faith, the clarification did little to assuage the offense. Then, former National Security Council official Elliot Abrams said Palestine would be the first country to officially prohibit Jews or any other faith since Nazi Germany, which aimed for a country that was judenrein, or cleansed of Jews.