Wrong Place, Wrong Time


Karla Santoyo

Ilan Grapel tells his story to high school students.

Karla Santoyo, Editor-in-Chief

When subjected to solitary confinement for over 120 days, individuals can easily begin to lose their minds. His absence in school for an entire semester and incarceration was due to one simple claim: Ilan Grapel, a law student at Emory College, was an Israeli spy.

Grapel visited Theory of Knowledge classes as well as IB Contemporary History courses on Oct. 9 and 10 to tell the unbelievable story of his indomitable life. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“I think it was a great opportunity to be able to talk to him and have him explain his story to us. It really gave me a better understanding of the whole conflict in the Middle East from someone who has actually gone through it,” junior Gaitana Jaramillo said.

Grapel was born and raised in the United States, but held a dual American-Israeli citizenship. As an ex-soldier, he was finishing up immigration work on behalf of seeking Iraqi refugees’ asylum in the U.S.

Later, on an ordinary day in Tahrir Square, his attempt to socialize and interact with the locals led to his kidnapping at his home the following day. The ordinary ability for an American to speak both Hebrew and Arabic so fluently -both of which have different alphabets- and to be a foreign soldier added to the accusations against Grapel.

He was seen as a Mossad agent who was out to sabotage the 2011 Egyptian revolutions. The government effortlessly gathered his Facebook images into a video, added phony spy music in the background and alerted the media immediately.

On Jun. 12, 2011, he was kidnapped and sentenced with life imprisonment. He was charged with “terrorist actions” ranging from smuggling weapons into Egypt to seducing Egyptian women.

He remained in solitary confinement for the duration of his trial of four and a half months, and was exchanged between different attorneys. This was the only time he actually interacted with people, which is something that remains very visible in his mind today.

In a single cell, he could only sleep so much, so he began reading, meditating and practicing Pilates to pass time.

Mr.De Armas was Illan Grapel’s roomate back in college:

“One of my best friends was in jail; I was worried sick. We were able to at least send him a card on his birthday and I was reading the news every single day, writing to legislatures and hoping and praying. He truly lucked out because he could’ve been easily tortured and killed during the Arab spring,” history teacher Mr. De Armas said.

Grapel used his fake-seizure card once, but evidently failed. He planned to hit the table and begin bleeding in order to be taken to the nearest hospital to interact with another individual (nurse, doctor, patient, etc.). He couldn’t handle his confinement anymore.

After negotiations between the U.S. and Israel, along with his friends and family calling congressmen, a peace deal was created. Ilan Grapel was exchanged for 25 heroine drug dealers previously incarcerated in Israeli jail. This was the mere idea of a prisoner swap.

To be able to exonerate himself, he was also subjected to a few media campaigns and was visited by the prime minister of Israel to give a speech. Grapel was forced to state that he was in support of his incarceration and was treated fairly by the Egyptians the entire period of time.

“”After telling the story to a variety of audiences around the world and a series of media outlets, I felt that the CGSH student body was one of the most energetic. It helps tell my story. I also love talking to groups that understand reggeaton references,” Grapel said.

Yes, Ilan Grapel was lucky to have survived to tell the tale, but his past will be a thing that will never be forgotten and his psychological torture of confinement will haunt him for a lifetime. Once freed, he was never allowed to set foot in an Arab country again.