Ilan Grapel, a rising third-year student at the Emory University School of Law, was arrested as a suspected Israeli spy in Cairo last Sunday. He is currently being detained in Egypt and may face trial within the next week.
Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram
reported that Grapel has confessed to providing the Mossad, Israel's Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations, with daily intelligence reports and working to recruit Egyptian citizens to aid his espionage campaign. He was arrested at his hotel room last weekend.
Friends and family of 27-year-old Grapel have maintained that Grapel, who they say is spending the summer interning with Saint Andrew's Refugee Services, a non-governmental legal aid group that helps resettle refugees, is not a spy.
"He is not a Mossad spy," Irene Grapel, the student's mother, said in an interview with the New York Post
. "That's ridiculous! He's been in school for the last two years."
She added that Grapel was a supporter of the Arab cause, calling him an "Arabist."
reported on June 12 that an unnamed judiciary source said that Grapel took part in the revolt against Egypt's former president Hosni Mubarak in Tahrir Square in Cairo.
"He was there on a daily basis inciting youths towards sectarian strife. He has been distributing money to some of them," the source said.
While Egyptian officials say that Grapel has been in the country since February, when the uprisings in Cairo took place, Irene Grapel said in an interview with the Associated Press
that her son left for Cairo on May 10.
Some, including Irene and Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), whom Grapel interned for in 2002, have said that Grapel may have been targeted due to Facebook pictures that feature him in an Israeli uniform.
has pulled photographs of Grapel in Tahrir Square and in Army garb from his Facebook page and printed them under headlines that read, "Mossad officer who tried to sabotage the Egyptian revolution."
Grapel, who has dual Israeli-American citizenship, was wounded in 2006 while serving in the Israeli Defense Forces during the Lebanon War.
On Tuesday, Israel's foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman also claimed that Grapel was not serving as a spy in Egypt and denied that he had been working for Israeli intelligence. In a radio interview on "Israel Radio," he said that he has "no idea" why Grapel should be detained.
"This is a student, perhaps a little strange or a little careless," Lieberman said on "Army Radio." "He has no connection to any intelligence apparatus, not in Israel, not in the U.S. and not on Mars. This is a mistake or strange behavior by the Egyptians. They have received all the clarifications and I hope the whole story will end quickly."
Ackerman has made appeals to Egyptian officials. In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency
, he described the Johns Hopkins University graduate and current Emory Law student as "silly" and "enamored of the Egyptian people and culture."
"This kid ain't no spy," Ackerman, who said he has told Egyptians he is willing to travel to Egypt to meet with authorities, claimed.
Despite reports from senior Israeli officials such as Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak that Grapel is expected to be released within the next few days, Egyptian officials have maintained that the accusations against Grapel as reported in the Al-Ahram
, such as alleged confessions that Grapel is working for the Mossad as well as the report that the student attempted to get a visa to Egypt before his arrival by declaring he was a Muslim, are true.
Judge Hisham Badawi of the Supreme State Security Prosecution, who initially ordered the 15-day detainment, reportedly said to Internet newspaper The Seventh Day
that "everything published in the Al-Ahram
newspaper this morning is fundamentally mistaken." A June 17 article published in Haaretz said that Badawi has stated that there are no plans to prosecute Grapel, despite claims and reports in Al-Ahram
and the Jerusalem Post that indicate otherwise.
Attorney Yitzhak Meltzer, who represents alleged Israeli spy Ouda Suleiman Tarabin, is not optimistic that Egypt's justice system will offer Grapel a fair trial, based on his experience with Tarabin, according to a June 15 article in the Jerusalem Post
Tarabin, who holds Iraeli and Egyptian citizenship, was arrested 12 years ago on suspicions that he was an Israeli spy. He was sentenced to 15 years in jail in Egypt and has been imprisoned since. Tarabin, who Meltzer told the Jerusalem Post
"has yet to see his charge sheet," recently had his case observed in an Amnesty International report on crimes committed by Mubarak's security forces.
"Administrative detention was clearly used to circumvent all sorts of judical rulings, including those issued by courts established by the Emergency Law. The authorities appeared intent on holding people they consider a 'threat.' While arresting and detaining them, they have also deprived them of their most fundamental rights," the report said.
Though Meltzer said that Tarabin "has become resigned to his fate," he said that the fact that Grapel holds American citizenship and that his case has been so widely publicized are both reasons why he is more likely to be given a fair trial and set free.
Many have expressed their disapproval and shock with regards to Egypt's decision to detain the law student.
Rebecca Peskin, a fellow Emory Law School student, told the Associated Press
that she does not believe the allegations.
"I don't think a Mossad agent would post things on Facebook, travel under his own name and get a grant from law school to travel," she said. "This is a big misunderstanding."
Another friend of Grapel's, who asked to be referred to as Shmuel in an interview with Haaretz
, noted that Grapel "was always concerned with human rights, was for the establishment of a Palestinian state and was learning about Arab culture."
International law expert and former legal counsel for the Foreign Ministry Alan Baker said in the June 15 Jerusalem Post
article that although Egypt has the right to arrest and try anybody suspected of espionage, Grapel's case is nothing more than a public distraction from greater ongoing issues in the country.
"At a time when the country is suffering an economic crisis, there is uncertainty about its leadership and there is a general breakdown of the rule of law," Baker said in the Jerusalem Post
. "There is nothing better than finding an Israeli spy and concocting a story around it. If it weren't so tragic, it would be a joke."
An Egyptian blogger, Hossam al-Hamalawy, accused Egyptian intelligence of making a "cheap move" to blame "any public criticism against the military" on the "work of Israeli spies."
Emory issued a statement this week saying that the University is "in touch with his family and [is] working with them to provide support and assistance."
The University is not releasing any other statement at this time.
Grapel has met with U.S. Consulate officials in Cairo and Israeli authorities say that the case is being handled by the U.S. because Grapel is traveling with an American passport. Mark Toner, a State Department spokesperson said in a June 13 article in Yahoo! News
that the Department's priorities at this time are to "provide him with consular services [and] work with local authorities to make sure he's being treated fairly under local law."
Although Baker, like Meltzer, expressed a lack of faith in the Egyptian Justice system, he said in the Jerusalem Post
article that he believes the U.S., which provides Egypt with a large amount of foreign aid each year, is capable of and willing to resolve the issue.
"I don't think that the Americans will take it nicely that one of their citizens be tried on trumped up charges," Baker said.
Grapel is a juris doctor degree candidate who is expected to graduate from Emory in May 2012. He was nominated for a University outstanding student worker award by the MacMillan Law Library and is involved in many programs both on and off campus, including the Emory Public Interest Committee (EPIC), Emory Law's Pro Bono program where he works with Student Legal Services, the Heir Property Project and the Volunteer Income Tax Association program.
Grapel's case is the first case of arrest of a suspected Israeli spy since Mubarak's resignation in February.
— Contact Alice Chen.