An Oakland Gardens law student is close to a ticket home after being arrested on spy charges in Egypt during their uprisings this past summer.
As reported in The New York Times, Ilan Grapel, 27 – who has dual citizenship with the United States and Israel – would be exchanged for 80 Egyptians who had been arrested over the Israeli border on drug and other charges. The deal would be the second mass exchange after Israeli soldier, Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit, was swapped for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.
According to Congressmember Gary Ackerman, the timing of the proposed trade for Grapel is not contingent on the success of the Israeli-Palestinian exchange but “makes it conducive to try to move these things within the same general time frame.”
“I can tell you that he is not a spy,” said Ackerman, the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. “I’m doing everything I can on a daily basis to be sure he is being well treated and to convince the powers that be he is not a spy and to secure his release.”
Grapel had been a member of the Israeli military serving as a paratrooper and was injured in southern Lebanon in August 2006, according to reports. After returning home, he began attending Emory Law School in Georgia and travelled to Egypt as part of a project involving Sudanese refugees. He was arrested in June and accused of being an officer of the Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence Service, despite records of entering the country with a legitimate passport and posting pictures of himself on Facebook during the Egyptian uprisings that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak.
“We are grateful to the people that are holding him that he has not been mistreated,” said Ackerman, who once employed Grapel as an intern.
After being questioned whether or not Grapel’s family has had any contact with him, Ackerman took a long pause.
“I didn’t want to go this far. I was able to arrange for his parents to meet with him for what we thought was going to be an hour or so. It turned out to be three hours. We got them in and out of Cairo without notice [just before Rosh Hashana].”
While he would not say he was optimistic, Ackerman said he is “hopeful” that a deal will be made soon.