Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ilan Grapel

"בחור נפלא" (a great guy)...Ilan Grapel is free. Until a few days ago, the media were pretty quiet about the entire affair. The Emory law student from Queens, imprisoned in Egypt since June, has been set free in yet another exchange of prisoners. I came across Grapel while preparing for a series of classes on the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brothers or more precisely Hamas, it turns out, were involved in his release (or at least some say they were), and apparently also in the last rounds of negotiations of Gilad Shalit's that took place last week.  Grapel holds dual US-Israeli citizenship and served in the IDF. He applied for a visa in Tel Aviv, and made, it seems, no bones about being both a Jew and an Israeli. He posted photographs of himself at Tahrir Square, and wrote home regularly. Then he was arrested and things get a bit murky.

According to al Ahram, he was accused of being a Mossad spy and of inciting Egyptians. Why? He was said to have visited synagogues, pretending to be a journalist or a European tourist. Or, it was said, he tried to cross the border into eastern Libya. Alyawm al-masri thought those were ludicrous ideas.

Al Jazeera puts the exchange into context:

And already there is talk of additional prisoner exchanges. No wonder: Egypt will now be able to by 16 fighter jets,  and the 25 prisoners, mostly Bedouin drug and weapons' smugglers received a heroes' welcome.

The redemption of prisoners was a central value in rabbinic and medieval Judaism, and has, it seems, not lost its power in the modern state of Israel. Who in the US remembers Bowe Bergdahl, held by the Haqqani network in Afghanistan since 2009? Are there campaigns for his return? If so, I have not heard of any, and my students, many of them former soldiers who have seen action, have never heard his name.  Or how about Ahmed Kousay Altaie, missing in Iraq since 2006? FIVE years!

Here's to Bergdahl and Altaie's release from captivity. We sent them to war, we should bring them home.

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