Jerusalem, Oct. 27 – American-Israeli Ilan Grapel was reunited with his family in Israel on Thursday after spending five months in an Egyptian jail on spying charges that were generally regarded as spurious.
Grapel was exchanged for 25 Egyptian prisoners held in Israeli jails, most imprisoned for smuggling drugs or weapons across the Egyptian-Israeli border. Arab media, including the Palestinian Maan news agency reported that the United States has agreed to sell Egypt several F-16 fighter jets in order to facilitate the deal.
The 27-year-old, whose father is Israeli and mother American, has spent most of his life in the United States. He was arrested in Cairo on June 12 and first charged with espionage. While Israel and his family firmly rejected the charges, the Egyptian government never provided evidence to support its claim and the arrest was widely ridiculed in Egypt itself. The charges were later changed to incitement, insurrection, and damaging a public building during the uprising that took place in Egypt earlier this year.
After growing up in Queens, New York, Grapel graduated in 2005 from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland with a bachelor's degree in international studies. His family said he had learned Arabic and wanted to do good in the world and advance freedom and human rights. He had taken a job in Cairo in May with St. Andrews Refugee Services, a Christian organization that mostly provides legal aid for Sudanese refugees
Grapel served in the Israeli military and later returned to U.S. for law school, enrolling in Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. In the summer of 2002, Grapel interned in the Queens office of Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman, who worked hard for his release
The exchange deal was completed a week after Israel gained the release of Gilad Shalit, who had been held by Hamas in Gaza for five years. The latter stages of the Shalit swap were brokered by Cairo. That, coupled with the Grapel exchange has led some experts to suggest that relations between the neighboring countries might be stabilizing.
Israel is a net importer of Egyptian products. It buys three times more goods from Egypt than it sells to it. Last year, Egypt exported approximately $270 million in gas to Israel.