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October 25, 2011 4:33 pm

Queens Student Exchanged for 25 Egyptians

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Grapel photographed in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

A deal to secure the release of Ilan Grapel has been approved by the Israeli cabinet and the government of Egypt. An exchange of 25 Egyptian prisoners held by Israel secures the release of an Israeli-American citizen, whose parents are residents of Queens, New York. The exchange takes place at the Taba border crossing. Egyptian security sources told al-Ahram that “unprecedented security measures” were taken preceding the release. Following the exchange, Grapel will meet his parents in Eilat.

Robert Ahdieh, Vice Dean of Emory Law School told the Algemeiner that the University had been “activity involved in Ilan’s case, working with the family and the government and was heartened by the news.”  The Vice Dean said he looked forward to “welcoming him back as soon as he is ready.” He characterized Grapel as a “wonderful member of the Emory Law community” saying “we are enthusiastic to have him back soon.”

As was done prior to the recent Shalit swap, following the publication of the list, 48 hours were allowed for petitions to be submitted to the High Court challenging the release of specific prisoners. The Prime Minister’s Office assured that no “security prisoners” were among the group freed. YNet reports that, according to Israeli officials, “most Egyptians held in Israel are generally arrested for involvement in cross-border smuggling.” Three minors are among those set to be released.

Israel sent Kadima MK Israel Hasson, a former Shin Bet official, to negotiate with Egyptian officials. Upon his return from Cairo, he told reporters that “There was a dialogue between two nations who are partners in this,” specifically separating the exchange from the conditions of the Shalit “deal.” Hasson noted that Grapel said he was “treated fairly,” and had been in contact with his parents, including visiting with them on Rosh Hashana. Grapel holds dual U.S – Israeli citizenship, served as a paratrooper in the IDF (and was wounded during the 2006 Lebanon War) and, as noted, is a student at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta.

Calling the work of the Egyptian government “commendable,” Hasson said “We underestimate the new regime in Egypt…contrary to what we thought, not all Egyptians want to get rid of the peace treaty. We must keep in mind that Egyptian commandos injured almost 1,000 Egyptians to rescue our men at the embassy.” There are a total of 81 Egyptians in Israeli custody.

Congressman Gary Ackerman, representative of the 5th Congressional district which includes the area where Ilan Grapel grew up, released a statement Tuesday afternoon hailing his release. The Congressman said he had “worked to secure his release by intervening with the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the Prime Minister of Israel and the U.S. State Department.” Ackerman, who serves on the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, said “we cannot be more relieved and gratified that Ilan will finally be freed…We worked tirelessly to win Ilan’s release.” Ackerman noted that he was “assured by the highest levels in Israel that in no way did Ilan have anything to do with espionage, the Mossad or any other type of spy agency.” He noted that all efforts had been made to “focus on the real goal of fixing the original mistake that put Ilan into Egyptian custody.”

Grapel’s relationship with the Congressman is not only as a constituent, in 2002, he served as an intern in Ackerman’s Bayside, Queens, and congressional office.

According to Egyptian officials, Grapel, now 27, was accused of spying for Israel, alleged to be “gathering intelligence about the revolution and inciting clashes with the military.” He was in Tahrir Square during the anti Mubarak revolution. Although the Grapel matter had been discussed by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta during his recent visit to Egypt, no specific comment was offered by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

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