Prisoners: Swap Us for Grapel

Egyptian prisoners in Israel send letter to Egypt’s Foreign Minister asking to be released in exchange for Israeli "spy" Ilan Grapel.

Tags: Ilan Grapel
Elad Benari , | updated: 9:36 AM

Grapel in Cairo
Grapel in Cairo
Grapel's Facebook page picture

Egyptian prisoners in Israel have sent a letter to Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Nabil Al-Arabi, asking that he make a prisoner exchange deal with Israel, under which they will be released in exchange for Ilan Grapel, the Israeli who was arrested in Egypt on spying charges earlier this week.

The report on the prisoners’ letter appeared on Hamas’ website on Thursday. The website cited high-ranking diplomatic Egyptian officials, who were also quoted as saying that Al-Arabi has refused to meet with senior Israeli officials to discuss the Grapel case.

The sources said that Al-Arabi received many requests by Israeli officials and diplomats who asked to meet him, but he has refused to do so while Grapel is under investigation. According to the sources, Al-Arabi stressed that the Foreign Ministry has no say in this matter.

Among the Israeli officials who approached Al-Arabi for a meeting about Grapel were Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon as well as the Israeli consul in Cairo. Al-Arabi refused to meet with both, sending the Foreign Ministry official in charge of Israel to meet with the consul instead. In addition, noted the sources, Al-Arabi sent a note in which he wrote that the subject is not up for negotiation since it is a matter of Egyptian security.

27-year-old Grapel was in Egypt as a volunteer with a U.S. refugee agency when he was arrested in Cairo over the weekend.

He is an ardent Zionist who also loves Arabic culture and believes peace is possible between Israelis and Arabs. He resides in Queens but 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.

Grapel made it into a leading unit in the Paratroopers Brigade and was lightly wounded in the shoulder during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, in a battle at the village of Taibe.

After his arrest, his picture covered the front pages of newspapers in Egypt, with the state-owned Al-Akhbar describing the arrest as a “painful Egyptian hit against the Mossad.”

He is accused of having posed as a foreign journalist while trying to create chaos after the uprising that forced the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year.

But while Egyptian media has given extensive coverage to the case, Egyptians themselves are skeptical that Grapel is indeed a spy, especially since he documented his entire sojourn in Egypt with photos and Facebook comments, an act that would not be characteristic of a Mossad operative.

Israel has publicly denied that Grapel is a spy, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman saying after his arrest that “this is a student with no connection to the Israeli intelligence establishment.”