In an effort to prevent Jews from moving into Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has ordered Palestinians who sell or rent real estate “to an enemy state or one of its subjects” — that is, Jewish Israelis — be sentenced to hard labor for life, the official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.
The new penalty follows recent purchases of homes by Jews in Silwan, a predominantly Arab neighborhood near Jewish holy sites in east Jerusalem, purchases that have been met with fierce criticism by both Palestinians and the Obama administration.
The White House and State Department earlier this month accused Israel of working to “poison the atmosphere” with the Palestinians by allowing east Jerusalem homes to be built for and purchased by Jewish Israelis. No similar criticism was issued regarding any Palestinians moving into the predominantly Jewish western part of the city.
Jewish settlement activists inspect homes that were occupied by settlers this week in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in east Jerusalem, Oct. 1, 2014. (Quique Kierszenbaum/MCT via Getty Images)
Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
Over the weekend, Jewish residents moved into two buildings in the Silwan neighborhood that had been purchased by Arab middlemen to mask the identity of the buyers. Palestinians who have sold homes to Jews in the past have faced reprisals, including murder.
The process of purchasing real estate by Jews in neighborhoods populated mostly by Arabs is a process that, as described by the Palestinian Ma’an news agency, is “shrouded in mystery” due to the use of middlemen and straw companies.
The Fatah Revolutionary Council issued a statement Monday accusing Palestinians who sell their Jerusalem real estate of committing “high treason,” the Times of Israel reported.
The body called on Palestinians to “boycott and humiliate them on all popular levels.”
“Those whose sick souls allowed them to sell their land or homes, or enable such sales to the enemies of the Palestinian people, are a gang of traitors to their nation and religion,” Fatah spokesman Osama al-Qawasmi said, according to the Wafa news agency and quoted in the Times of Israel. “They have brought shame and scorn upon themselves in this world and in the afterlife.”
“One would rather die than sell his honor and betray the most sacred land in the world, saturated with the blood of prophets and martyrs throughout history,” he said. “Those traitors are destined to die a humiliating death.”
Fatah is the largest faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The Times of Israel noted that the PLO’s Revolutionary Penal Code of 1979 lays out the death penalty to Palestinians accused of “transferring positions to the enemy.”
Since the late 1990s, Palestinian courts have handed down death sentences to those convicted of selling their properties, though the executions have not been authorized by Abbas since 2004, the Times reported. A public intimidation campaign was launched in recent days, with photos and other details about alleged Palestinian sellers being posted on social media.
Israeli law is the law of the land in east Jerusalem, so officially at least, Palestinian dictates are unenforceable. That has not stopped vigilantes in the past from kidnapping suspected sellers and transporting them up the road to the West Bank where Palestinian law applies.
Bassem Eid, a Palestinian civil rights activist, told the Times of Israel that Jerusalem Arabs have been kidnapped and moved to Ramallah where they have been tortured to death by the Palestinian Authority’s Preventive Security Agency.
Jews who wish to live in the area filled with Jewish history often move in overnight to avoid attack by Palestinian residents who don’t want them there.
Ma’an tracked down the seller of one of the properties in Silwan who thought he was selling to a Palestinian buyer.
Zuheir al-Rajabi said, "I hate myself for selling, people are accusing us of knowingly selling" the real estate.
His family posted an ad in a widely read Palestinian newspaper with an image of the sale contract that displayed the name of an Arab buyer in an effort to show they didn’t know they were selling to Jews, Ma'an reported.
"We should have been more careful but we cannot take it back. The settlers are like a cancer which spreads through the body until it dies," Rajabi said.