A Queens Family Waits and Prays for Egypt to Release Ilan Grapel

The mother of Ilan Grapel, a young Queens man imprisoned in Egypt, waits and hopes

“We simply are waiting and hoping – and praying very hard.”

The mother of a young Queens man imprisoned in Egypt summed up the situation this way.

Irene Grapel is the mother of Ilan Grapel of Oakland Gardens, who has been held by the Egyptian government since June. He was accused of espionage, charges strongly denied by both the young man and his parents.

With Israelis focused on the release of Gilad Shalit, a prisoner of the militant Palestinian organization Hamas for five years, the plight of Ilan Grapel has received less attention. But his mother, father and sister have been watching and waiting -- and praying.

Irene Grapel told me about her son: “He’s a boy who always wanted to do good for the world. He learned Arabic at Johns Hopkins. He went to Egypt to help in the re-settlement of people from Arab countries who were displaced. Ilan is a young man who wanted to see all sides of every issue.“

Ilan, she said, had an ardent interest in helping people. A few years ago, he went to Israel to serve in the Israeli Army. He has dual citizenship.

Rep. Gary Ackerman has been trying hard to secure Grapel’s release. The young man was arrested, the Democratic lawmaker said, after he had somebody take a picture of him in his old Israeli uniform in Tahrir Square and posted it on Facebook. Ackerman asserted: “He certainly was not a spy. He did what college kids do .. posted a picture of himself on Facebook.”

Ackerman, through his work in Washington, knows many Arab diplomats. He’s seeking help in getting the young man released. “We’re hoping,” the lawmaker told me, “to give his parents an early Mother’s Day or Father’s Day present.”

Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, was released Tuesday after five years of imprisonment. He was swapped for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. Many Israelis cheered for Shalit. But others, especially those who have lost loved ones to terrorists in recent years, deplored the release of the prisoners, many of whom were accused of acts of terror.

If 1,000 to 1 seems like a lopsided ratio, it should be noted that the Talmud, a book of Jewish philosophy, says: “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

Contact Us