NBC New York
An Israeli citizen from Queens arrested in Egypt as a suspected spy was freed on Thursday after more than four months in jail, under a prisoner swap deal that has eased friction between the two countries. DeMarco Morgan reports.
A smiling Queens man and Israeli citizen imprisoned for months in Egypt on unsubstantiated suspicions of spying embraced his tearful mother, Irene, who traveled to Israel from her New York home to meet her son on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion International Airport after his release.
Ilan Grapel looked fit after his one-hour flight from Cairo. The 27-year-old was also greeted by U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman — a Democratic congressman from New York for whom Grapel interned in 2002 — and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro.
The entourage then traveled to Jerusalem to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who warmly shook Grapel's hand.
Israel released 25 jailed Egyptians, most of them smugglers, for Grapel, who was arrested in Cairo in June. The country said it agreed to the exchange to defuse a potential crisis between the neighboring countries.
Grapel plans to remain in Israel for at least two days to meet with Israeli and American officials before returning to the U.S.
Hours before the release, his father, Daniel Grapel, told The Associated Press that his son had been held in isolation in an unknown location and that when they last spoke two weeks ago, he seemed to be in "OK" condition and "getting fed."
"I am happy that this thing will be done and over with and that he will be able to resume his normal life away from Egypt," Daniel Grapel said in a telephone interview from New York.
Ilan Grapel was born in New York and moved to Israel, where his grandparents lived, as a young man. He did his compulsory military service in Israel during its 2006 war with Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas and was wounded in the fighting.
He later returned to the U.S. to study. After his legal internship in Cairo, he planned to return to Emory University in Atlanta for his final year of law school.
Grapel was volunteering at a legal aid group in Cairo when he was arrested in early June on suspicion of spying for Israel during the grass roots revolt that overthrew Hosni Mubarak. He was never charged.
Grapel made no secret of his Israeli background, entered Egypt under his real name and his Facebook page had photos of him in an Israeli military uniform. Such openness about his identity suggested he was not a spy, and even in Egypt, where hostility toward Israel runs high, the arrest was widely ridiculed.
The U.S. Embassy in Cairo took the lead in Grapel's case because he entered Egypt with his U.S. passport, and Ackerman lobbied for his release.