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‘Spy’ Grapel – an Ardent Zionist who Loves Arabic Culture

Ilan Grapel, held in Egypt on suspicion of spying for Israel, volunteered for IDF service, holds dovish views on the conflict.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 6/14/2011, 9:22 AM / Last Update: 6/14/2011, 9:24 AM

Grapel's Facebook page.

The man Egypt is holding on suspicion of spying for Israel, Ilan Grapel, is an ardent Zionist who also loves Arabic culture and believes peace is possible between Israelis and Arabs. His views on the Arab-Israeli conflict are described by people who know him as very dovish, sometimes "infuriatingly" so.

Grapel, 27, is a US citizen who resides in Queens, but he came to Israel on his own in 2005 to enlist to the IDF. He had majored in international affairs at Johns Hopkins University, also studying Arabic, and told his mother that he "didn't want a boring life" and was seeking some adventure before going into graduate school He made it into a leading unit in the Paratroopers Brigade and was lightly wounded in the shoulder during the Lebanon War, in a battle at the village of Taibe.  

Grapel has a command of fluent Arabic and took every opportunity to speak it with Arab students at Johns Hopkins. His trip to Egypt during the recent revolution there appears to reflect his curiosity, sense of adventure and idealism, as well as his love of Arabic culture. In a photograph of Grapel that appeared on his Facebook page, he was seen holding a sign that said “Stupid Obama, it is a pride revolution, not a food revolution.”

Egyptian activist and blogger Hossam al-Hamalawy cast doubt on the story, noting on his blog that protesters in Egypt have been accused of being Israeli spies since the student riots of 1968. There is skepticism in Egyptian media as well regarding the charges against Grapel. Al Masri Al Youm quoted Abdel-Alim Mohamed, an expert on Israeli affairs at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, who said: “The problem is that we have this mythical image of the Mossad, that it is this incomparable intelligence service, but we ignore that it has many failings and it isn’t as strong as it used to be.”

In any case, the accusations against Grapel, a human being, are a step up from previous Arab suspicions against sharks and vultures. Sarcasm aside, there is well-founded worry about the conditions under which he is being held and of his getting a fair chance under the present rule in Egypt, an unknown quantity that seems to miss no opportunity to weaken the Israel-Egypt peace agreement.