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Ilan Grapel, 27, was arrested in Cairo during a protest rally on June 12 and accused of being a spy. He was put in an Egyptian jail for over four months, but was let out on Thursday in exchange for the release of 25 Egyptians that were locked up in Israel. The released prisoners were mostly smugglers and included two minors.
Before his return to the United States, Grapel met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who gave him a burger, fries, and red wine, and was debriefed by security officials. The Emory University law student was greeted by family and friends upon his arrival in New York City on Saturday.
Grapel’s flight was delayed due to a mechanical problem and would have been cancelled if the Delta flight crew had not volunteered to work overtime, so he could make it home. Grapel holds both U.S. and Israeli citizenship and was in Egypt with a volunteer group who helps Sudanese refugees.
He speaks Hebrew and Arabic and had at one time served in Israel’s military. Grapel claims he is not a spy, which Israel has also confirmed. United States Representative Gary Ackerman, with whom Grapel once interned, lobbied to have him released. Because Grapel had been cut off for over four months, Ackerman played a prank on him and told him the Mets had won the World Series.
Grapel thanked the U.S. and Israeli officials who fought to have him set free. He said that the Egyptians treated and fed him well in prison and allowed his mother a visit, though he was kept in solitary confinement. He stated, “”It was a tough ordeal as I was isolated, but the guards were okay.
What I wanted to eat, they gave me, including fresh fish.” Grapel’s father, however, did not share his son’s forgiving attitude and claimed he would sue them. Grapel stated, in regard to the months of Egyptian interrogations, “It’s hard for me to describe. It was overwhelming.” His mother helped him to stay calm and not lose hope during his ordeal.
After Grapel was released from prison, he was happily reunited with his mother at Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel and was then reunited with his emotional father in New York. During an airport news conference, Grapel spoke of his fondness for pancakes.
He declared, “What I have not had are chocolate chip pancakes from IHOP!” He also expressed his only disappointment during his flight home was the fact that his flight attendant was married.
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