Israeli once accused of spying speaks out against Egyptian authorities

Ahram Online, Monday 13 Jun 2011

Azzam Azzam, an Israeli who spent eight years in an Egyptian prison on falsified charges of being a spy, believes that Ilham Grapel is just another victim of the need of Egypt's rulers to please the crowds

Azzam, a Druze resident of the Maghar village in Israel, was arrested and charged with espionage by the Egyptian authorities in 1996. He had arrived in November of that year on behalf of the Tefron textile company in order to visit the factory's production line.

Now with Israeli Ilan Grapel detained by the Egyptian government on similar charges of spying for Israel, Azzam has decided to speak out publicly. In an interview with the Israeli Ynet news service, Azzam said that Grapel may be released shortly.

"If this is a plot, then simple diplomatic procedure will see him released in the coming days,” Azzam said. “If, however, he turns out to be a spy, the affair can also be handled via the proper channels."

Speaking about his own experience, Azzam said that after being arrested the Egyptian authorities forced him to sign a blank paper and then later filled it with an admission that he did indeed spy on Egypt. Azzam said that he was interrogated for eight days before being allowed to meet with an Israeli representative. He also expressed his concern that a similar scenario is being used in the case of the latest alleged Israeli spy.

“Sadly, any Israeli journalist or citizen detained in Egypt since the revolution will be taken for a spy,” says Azzam. “This is an attempt by the military council to please the crowds.”

Azzam said that he believes that Grapel will be released and wondered why Egypt insists that there are Israeli spies operating in the country.

“I don't understand what the Egyptians are thinking. We have peace with them, then why the need for spies? Any Israeli can easily cross the border into Egypt and be a potential spy as far as they're concerned.”

According to AP, Grapel is a 27-year-old American-Israeli law student from Queens, New York, doing an internship at a nonprofit organisation in Cairo. He was identified by former classmate Will Felder, a 29-year-old law student at Emory University in Atlanta.

According to Fedler, Grapel had moved to Israel to live with his grandparents and did his compulsory military service during the 2006 war between the Israeli military and Hezbollah. After being wounded, he returned to the US for law school, before leaving for Cairo for a legal internship.

"His parents became concerned because he hadn't shown up for work," Felder said, and then saw their son's name being reported as that of "a Mossad spy who had been arrested." An acquaintance in Israel, Ziki Ud, told Israel Radio that Grapel had an avid interest in the Middle East and had studied Arabic.

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