Palestinian land laws

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Palestinian land laws[1] are laws which relate to ownership of land under the Palestinian Authority (PA). These laws prohibit Palestinians from selling Palestinian territory lands to "any man or judicial body [corporation] of Israeli citizenship living in Israel or acting on its behalf."[2][3][4][5] These land laws were originally enacted during the Jordanian occupation of the West Bank (1948–1967),[3] and while groups such as Amnesty International[6] and Human Rights Watch[3] have condemned the law and the death penalty, they are considered by the Palestinian Authority as being necessary to prevent further expansion of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories and to "halt the spread of moral, political and security corruption".[5] The law carries a sentence of the death penalty.[1][2][3][4][5][7][8]


Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan and Gaza from Egypt during the Six-Day War of 1967. Shortly after the war, Israel began establishing settlements in these territories in contradiction with legal advice, including from Theodor Meron, the Israeli Foreign Ministry's advisor.[9]

In 2005, Israel dismantled its settlements in Gaza, but Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, along with their security zones, still account for about 60% of the area.[10] In the West Bank, settlements have continued to slowly grow and as of April 2009, included about 400,000 settlers.[7] All Israeli settlements in the occupied territories (including those in East Jerusalem) have been declared illegal under international law, but Israel disputes this finding.[7]

Palestinians argue that the growth of Israeli settlements compromises their ability to establish a viable state of their own in the territories, in accordance with the proposed two-state solution.[11] In an attempt to prevent the further spread of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority, invoking an earlier Jordanian law, announced in 1997 that the death penalty would henceforth be sought for Palestinians found guilty of selling their property to "any man or judicial body [corporation] of Israeli citizenship living in Israel or acting on its behalf." [reference needed]. In April 2009, the PA reiterated its position that sale of property to Israelis constitutes treason and is punishable by death.[5]

The laws[edit]

A number of laws appear to have been employed by the Palestinian Authority in its attempts to limit the spread of settlements. In 1997, the PA announced that it would seek the death penalty for Palestinians selling land to Israelis pursuant to a 1973 Jordanian statute known as the "Law for Preventing the Sale of Immoveable Property to the Enemy".[citation needed] Under this statute, "the enemy" is defined as

... any man or judicial body [corporation] of Israeli citizenship living in Israel or acting on its behalf.[citation needed]

Article 4 of the statute states that:

The sale of immoveable property against the provisions of this law constitutes a crime against state security and well being, punishable by death, and the confiscation of all the culprit's immoveable and moveable possessions.[citation needed]

The statute additionally states that anyone who sells land to an alien (non-Jordanian or non-Arab) without permission from the government will also be subject to the death penalty.[citation needed]

Later in 1997, the PA began drafting a new law to replace the Jordanian statute, known as the "Property Law for Foreigners". Under the provisions of this draft proposal, the sale of land to "occupiers" was described as an act of "national treason", with "occupiers" defined as the "government of occupation [ie Israel], its civilian and military institutions and its individual citizens". The draft statute authorized the "maximum penalty" (i.e. death sentence) for Palestinians convicted of the offence, and life imprisonment for foreigners.[citation needed] It is not clear whether this statute was ever put into effect, but it appears it was not, possibly due to international criticism.

In the latest (2009) case in which a Palestinian was convicted of selling land to foreigners, however, it appears that some additional laws were used to obtain the conviction. The Jerusalem Post states that the defendant was convicted under a law prohibiting sale of Palestinian land to "the enemy" (possibly a reference to the old Jordanian law), as well as a Palestinian "military law" which, according to the Jerusalem Post, "states that it is forbidden to sell land to Jews", and two earlier laws dating from the 1950s which forbade trade with the state of Israel.[12]

While Palestinian Authority courts can impose death sentences, they cannot be carried out without the approval of the PA President. The current President, Mahmoud Abbas, has consistently refused to approve executions.[13]


Sources differ on the number of Palestinians officially executed for the offence, with the Jerusalem Post stating that none have been executed[12] while a BBC report indicates that there have been two executions.[7] However, a number of extrajudicial killings have also taken place since the death penalty was first announced. In May 1997 for example, three Palestinians convicted under the statute were later found murdered. Human Rights Watch argued that the circumstances of the murders "strongly suggested official tolerance if not involvement" by the PA, citing as evidence "inflammatory statements" by PA Justice Minister Frei Abu Medein "which seemed to give a green light to violence against suspected land dealers." Medein is quoted as saying: "... expect the unexpected for these matters because nobody from this moment will accept any traitor who sells his land to Israel."[3] According to the Jerusalem Post, "scores" of Palestinians have been murdered in the last thirty years for selling their property to Jews.[5]

In 1998, Amnesty International reported that up to 100 Palestinians were arrested by the Palestinian Authority in 1997 on charges of colloborating with Israel or selling land to Israelis. The organization reported that torture of those accused of selling land to Israelis appeared to be systematic, and unlawful killings were also reported against those accused.[6]

An additional consequence has reportedly been increased intimidation of Palestinian Christians, as many ordinary Palestinians have misinterpreted the law to mean prohibition on sale of property not only to Jews but also to any other non-Muslim. This misperception has been fuelled by a number of fatwas issued by Palestinian Muslim clerics in support of the PA's death penalty which fail to distinguish between Jews and Christians, but which simply condemn sale of property to "infidels" (i.e. non-Muslims).[14]

In March 2007, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan arrested two Palestinians accused of selling a house in Hebron to Israelis. According to Hebron's Jewish Committee, "The arrest exposes once again the anti-Semitic nature of the PA. We call upon the government to accept the racial hatred prevalent in the PA." Knesset member Uri Ariel demanded that the government act to secure the release of the arrested Palestinians, while Orit Struk of the committee said the arrest proves that the house legally belongs to the Jewish community.[15]

In 2012, Mohammad Abu Shahala, a former PA intelligence officer, was reportedly sentenced to death for selling land to Jews. The Jewish community of Hebron petitioned the UN, the US, and the Israeli government to step in on Abu Shahala's behalf.[16]

Events in 2009[edit]

In early April 2009, it was reported that several Jewish businessmen from the United States purchased 20 dunams (2 hectares) of land from Palestinians in the Mount of Olives area of Jerusalem. The report prompted the PA to reissue its warning that sale of property to Jews constitutes "high treason" punishable by death. Sheikh Tamimi, Chief (Islamic) Judge of the PA, reminded Palestinians of an earlier fatwa against the practice. "The city of Jerusalem is the religious, political and spiritual capital of the Palestinians," he said. "The Jews have no rights in Jerusalem. This is an occupied city like the rest of the territories that were occupied in 1967." [5] Fatah legislator Hatem Abdel Kader, an advisor to the PA Prime Minister, asserted that the ban on sale of property to Jews was still necessary as the Israeli government and settlers were mounting a "fierce onslaught" on the Arab sector in East Jerusalem, attempting to alter the demographic balance there by demolishing Palestinian homes.[5] East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in the wake of the 1967 war, but the annexation has not been recognized by the international community.[17]

In late April 2009, a Palestinian military court condemned a man to death by hanging for treason after he sold some land to Israelis. The death sentence requires the approval of the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, who is not expected to approve it.[7]

Affirmation by court in 2010[edit]

In September 2010, a Palestinian court reaffirmed that the sale of Palestinian land to Israelis is punishable by death. The Palestine General Prosecution said that the ruling represented "a consolidation of the previous legal principle," and that the "ruling aimed to protect the Palestinian national project to establish an independent Palestinian state."[18]

Events in 2012[edit]

Osama Hussein Mansour, a retired Palestinian security officer, was arrested by the Palestinian Authority in June 2012 on charges of collaborating with Israel and being involved in land transactions with Israelis. He died in July after falling from a window while being held in Palestinian custody, but it was unclear whether he fell or was pushed. His wife does not believe it was suicide, but rather that he was killed, and stated that she visited him a few days before and he was in good spirits and happy.[19][20][21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Weiner, Justus Reid (2005). Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. p. 22. ISBN 965-218-048-3. 
  2. ^ a b Roger Kaplan & Adrian Karatnycky (1998). Freedom in the World: The Annual Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties, 1997-1998. Transaction Publishers. p. 577. ISBN 0-7658-0476-X. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Human Rights Watch World Report 1998. Human Rights Watch. 1997. p. 340. ISBN 1-56432-176-2. 
  4. ^ a b "Israel Investigates Death Of an Arab Land Dealer". The New York Times. 1997-05-11. Retrieved 2009-07-01. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Abu Toameh, Khaled (2009-04-01). "PA: Death Penalty for Those who Sell Land to Jews". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2009-07-01. 
  6. ^ a b "Amnesty International Report 1998 - Palestinian Authority". Amnesty International. 1 January 1998. Retrieved July 15, 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Palestinian Handed Death Sentence, BBC News, 29 April 2009
  8. ^ "Death Verdict over W. Bank Land Sale". Al Jazeera English. 2009-04-29. Retrieved 2009-05-16. 
  9. ^ Senior legal official warned that settlements would be illegal in 1967 Independent - 26 May 2007
  10. ^ Katya Adler, "Challenge of Israeli settlements", BBC News.
  11. ^ Matt Spetalnick, "Obama to hear Abbas plea on Israeli settlements" The Independent (Reuters source).
  12. ^ a b Abu Toameh, Khaled (2009-04-29). "PA court: Death to man who sold land to Jews". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2009-05-20. 
  13. ^ Palestinian Faces Death for Selling Land to Israel, Associated Press, Israel News, 28 April 2009
  14. ^ M. Sennott, Charles (1999-01-17). "Christians Anxious Under Palestinian Rule". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-05-16. 
  15. ^ Issacharoff, Avi and Shragai, Nadiv (30 March 2007). "Jordan, PA arrest 2 Palestinians for selling Hebron house to Jews". Ha'aretz. Retrieved July 15, 2012. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ East Jerusalem, B'Tselem.
  18. ^ "PA court: Sale of Palestinian land to Israelis is punishable by death". Ha'aretz. 20 September 2010. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  19. ^ "Palestinian ex-officer dies after 'fall' in police custody". AFP. 15 July 2012. Retrieved July 15, 2012. 
  20. ^ "Ex-officer dies in security custody, wife says he was killed". Ma'an News Agency. 14 July 2012. Retrieved July 15, 2012. 
  21. ^ Abu Toameh, Khaled (15 July 2012). "A man commits suicide over collaboration charge". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved July 15, 2012.