The Issue of Palestinian Land Sales to Jews

June 2, 1997

By Ray Hanania

Land is the heart of the Arab-Israel conflict, although it sometimes is not easy to recognize because of animosities that have developed into longtime hatreds and frustration. So it should not be a surprise that during this very serious impasse in the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, an issue involving the sale and ownership of land has surfaced. The Israelis are making much of reports that a ranking Palestinian minister "ordered" that Palestinians who sell land to "Jews," be killed. The reports are false, although like any false rumor, they are based on a morsel of truth. The PNA official who is cited as making these comments in fact did say that capital punishment was being considered as a means of punishing Christian and Muslim Palestinians those who sell land to Jews. The proposal is being considered by the PNA and is now under discussion. While this process is taking place, however, at least three Palestinian realtors or landowners who have sold land to Jewish clients have been murdered. The killings are under investigation. What is PNA President Yasir Arafat's position on this? President Arafat has said that the option should be considered and possibly implemented through proper legislation as punishment for the sale of Palestinian owned land. To people in the west, the entire issue is abhorrent. The Israelis, who have a much more effective public relations arm, recognize this and have done everything in their power to exploit this issue. They have distorted it, and downplayed the more significant aspects of this very complicated issue. In contrast, the Palestinians lack effective spokesmen or a professional communications strategy to combat these Israeli distortions. They simply assume that the public understands, as if there were no other issues of importance facing people in the world today! What Americans are not willing to recall or are not being reminded, is that in the United States, dozens of states do provide for capital punishment in instances of serious crime. But, in the old days when the United States was still young and a pioneer country, it was the law that anyone who stole a man's horse could be lynched. The reasoning was that a horse was so essential to the survival of man in this wilderness American country that stealing the horse was in essence a criminal act that deprived American pioneers of their livelihood. In the Palestine-Israel conflict, this premise also applies. The issue of land is the cause of the conflict. The Palestinians have a legitimate claim against the Israel for nearly every mile of land that now constitutes Israel and the occupied territories. Obviously, that claim is under negotiation and the Palestinians are willing to compromise. But in the interim, Palestinians who sell their land to an Israel and when we talk about Israel, we are talking about a Jewish State and therefore, selling the land to a "Jew," we are talking about potential treason. And that is why the issue is being taken so seriously by the Palestinian National Authority. Banning the sale of land is a legitimate position for the PNA to take. Employing the death penalty as the ultimate punishment is subject to much emotional debate. Personally, I oppose the death penalty. But I do support harsh punishments for land sales while the peace process remains unresolved. Ironically, the Government of Israel has adopted laws that prohibit the sale of Israeli owned land to Christian and Muslim Palestinians, or to "non-Jews." And, the prohibition not only applies to Palestinians like myself who are not Israeli citizens, but also for Israeli citizens who are not Jewish. The controversy is a distraction from the real issues that face the peace process, and the real question: Are Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli people willing to compromise and return large parcels of occupied land including areas of Jerusalem occupied during the 1967 war willing to return that land in exchange for peace. That is called "compromise." And, if the Israelis and Mr. Netanyahu are unwilling to compromise to achieve peace, then the greater threat to the Middle East is not some "possible" law to impose capital punishment for Palestinian land sales to Jews, but the more ominous threat of another Arab-Israeli war that would result in the killings of not just a few people, but cause hundreds of thousands of deaths.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning Chicago journalist and former National President of the Palestinian American Congress. His columns are archived on the World Wide Web at