Human Rights Groups, EU Officials Silent as Dual US National Who Sold Property to Jews Remains Behind Bars

By Patrick Goodenough | January 10, 2019 | 12:49 AM EST

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini meets with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Brussels. (Photo: European External Action Service, File)

( – As a U.S. dual citizen sentenced by a Palestinian court to life imprisonment for selling a house to Jews remains behind bars, an Israeli legal advocacy group says it has found virtually no interest in its attempts to alert international human rights groups and European politicians to take up his case.

A court in Ramallah last week sentenced Issam Aqel, a Palestinian American resident of Jerusalem, for selling a house in Jerusalem to Jewish buyers. P.A. law bans sales of Palestinian-owned property to Jews, with offenders risking the death penalty.

The Jerusalem-based International Legal Forum (ILF) says it has been trying unsuccessfully for months – ever since Aqel was arrested in Ramallah last October – to raise his plight with human rights organizations and with European governments that are among the P.A.’s key funders.

ILF director Yifa Segal called it ‘shameful” that rights groups seemed unwilling to combat “this racist, hateful policy” and that E.U. governments appeared reluctant to use their political and economic leverage with the P.A.

Efforts by to follow up the ILF’s queries with the organizations and European governments have brought a similarly poor response.

Segal said ILF had contacted – two or three times each – Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as two locally-based rights groups that frequently advocate on behalf of Palestinians in international forums, B’Tselem and Adalah (“The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.”)

None had responded.

In Europe, she said, ILF had contacted – also several times in each case:

--The offices of German Chancellor Angela Merkel

-- The German foreign ministry

--Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)

--The office of European Council president Donald Tusk

--The office of European Council secretary-general Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen

--The office of European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

The only response received from any was a message from Mogherini’s office which Segal said was “short, generic and did not relate at all to Mr. Aqel’s case. Not even one word.”

The ILF had responded by asking Mogherini’s office, again, to respond specifically about the Aqel case, but has had no further response, she added.

Six days ago, sent queries to the four human rights organizations, and to the German chancellery, the German foreign ministry, the FCO in London, and to the press offices of Tusk, Tranholm-Mikkelsen, and Mogherini.

Amnesty International’s media manager for the Middle East and North Africa, Sara Hashash, said in reply the organization’s “Israel/Palestine research team is looking into this case but at present we do not have enough information about the details of the case to be able to provide a comment at this time.”

Hashash added that she was unaware of Amnesty having received any correspondence from the ILF, but said it was “a large organization with offices in multiple locations so the request may have been misdirected.”

Neither Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem nor Adalah responded to the queries about Aqel and about attempts by the ILF to alert them to the case.

Selling Palestinian-owned property in Israel’s capital to Jews is outlawed by the Palestinian Authority. (Photo:

Of the European government officials and departments contacted, received an on-the-record response only from Britain’s FCO. (The European Council press office referred queries to Mogherini’s press office, which did not respond.)

“We are aware of the case of Issam Aqel,” said an FCO spokesperson. “We expect his human rights to be respected and for him to have access to legal and consular support. We continue to routinely stress the importance of human rights and the rule of law with the Palestinian Authority.”

While Germany’s foreign ministry declined to respond on the record, an official speaking on background pointed out that Aqel is a U.S. citizen and said the German government has been in contact with its U.S. counterpart about the case.

Queries to the State Department and the U.S. Embassy and Consulate-General in Jerusalem brought the same official response: “We are aware of reports that a U.S. citizen has been sentenced by a Palestinian court. When a U.S. citizen is incarcerated abroad, the U.S. government works to provide all appropriate consular assistance.”

International Legal Forum director Yifa Segal. (Screen capture: YouTube)


Segal noted that P.A. law makes doing real estate business with Jews a capital offense, “and this is what the Palestinian Authority is working tirelessly to promote and enforce.”

“Mr. Aqel has become the most famous example, his American citizenship has awarded him the protection of the U.S. government and much of the public's attention. However, he is still held by the PA, and after months of imprisonment and torture, his fate is still unclear.”

Segal said more than 40 men had been arrested by the P.A. accused of similar charges in just the past month, and that one man accused of the same “offense” had been shot down in the street last year.

“We are shocked and outraged by the complacency of the world in the face of this horror,” she said. “The fact that those who proudly call themselves human rights organization have systematically refused to respond to our call and join the fight against this racist, hateful policy is shameful.”

Segal said governments like those of Britain and Germany “present themselves as global defenders of human rights.”

In addition, they “hold the power to leverage their significant support for the P.A., both financially and politically, to make sure this law is condemned, removed from the books for good, and ensure that all those innocent men be set free.”

“It is really within their power to make a real difference,” Segal said. “However, sadly, and shamefully they also chose to ignore our call and remain silent in the face of this atrocity.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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