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Grapel’s mother leaves for Cairo to meet her son
By HERB KEINON AND JOANNA PARASZCZUK
26/10/2011
High Court denies petition, green-lights Grapel release; dual US citizen to meet with Netanyahu following arrival in Israel.
 
Dual US-Israeli citizen Ilan Grapel is scheduled to fly from Cairo to Israel Thursday afternoon in exchange for 25 Egyptian prisoners, after the High Court of Justice refused two petitions against the deal late Wednesday evening.

The High Court debated the two petitions on Wednesday afternoon against the deal, but – as it did last week in the Gilad Schalit swap – denied them on the grounds that these types of exchanges are within the government’s purview. Grapel was arrested in Cairo on June 12 for allegedly spying for Israel, a charge later lowered to incitement.

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The two Israelis who negotiated Grapel’s release with the Egyptians – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho and Kadima MK and former deputy Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yisrael Hasson – are scheduled to fly Thursday afternoon to Cairo with Grapel’s mother to retrieve him.

Grapel is expected to land at Ben-Gurion Airport at about 5 p.m., and then drive to Jerusalem for a brief meeting with Netanyahu.

A spokesman for the Prisons Service said the Egyptian prisoners, who were gathered together at the Beersheba prison on Wednesday, will be taken to the Taba border crossing with Egypt most likely Thursday afternoon.

All of the Egyptian prisoners, according to information supplied by the Prisons Service, are serving time for criminal – rather than terrorist-related – offenses. The group of prisoners also includes three minors.

While Schalit was met upon his release in a government-organized ceremony at the Tel Nof Air Force Base – by his family, Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz – no official ceremony was planned for Grapel’s return.

One government source, explaining the difference in the reception, said Grapel was not a soldier, but rather a civilian unjustifiably accused of being a spy.

The official said it was not clear whether Grapel, who was born in the US, but immigrated to Israel and served in the Paratroopers Brigade, would remain here or return to the US. At the time of his arrest in June he was a law student at Emory University in Atlanta.

The first petition to the High Court against the deal on Wednesday was filed by MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) and far-right religious party Eretz Israel Shelanu (Our Land of Israel), and the second was filed by the Almagor Terror Victims Association.

A panel of three justices, Miriam Naor, Esther Hayut and Isaac Amit, heard the petitions.

Ben-Ari’s main argument was that the decision to release the prisoners was problematic because it was made by Netanyahu’s 14- man security cabinet, not by the government itself.

The National Union MK also dubbed the prisoner release agreement “disproportionate and unreasonable,” and said it differed from the Schalit deal because Grapel “went to Egypt of his own free will to participate in various activities of extremist movements.”

However, Naor pointed out in response that the reasons Grapel went to Egypt are unknown. In its response to the petition, the state said the 10 security prisoners included in the deal had been convicted mostly of weaponstrading offenses, and in one case of belonging to an illegal organization.

“None of the prisoners has been convicted of perpetrating acts of terror or acts to harm human life,” the state emphasized.

Another 11 prisoners had been mostly convicted of drug-trafficking offenses and the remaining four had served their prison sentences in full, the state noted.

However, in Wednesday’s court hearing Ben-Ari argued that drug trafficking was a serious offense and suggested that the state could have used other means to free Grapel, including funding a lawyer to represent him.

The petitioners also argued the state had not given the public enough time to respond to the prisoner releases.

However, Naor pointed out during the hearing that the list of prisoners and their full details had been published on the Prisons Service website on Tuesday, 48 hours before their scheduled release on Thursday.

The state had also emphasized that Israel’s relationship with Egypt was important, and the Grapel deal involved “political considerations regarding our relationship with Egypt.”

In the final ruling, the justices noted the state’s position that it was important to carry out the agreement between Israel and Egypt as scheduled, as any delay could prevent Grapel’s release.

“This court has debated the issue of time lines in the past, as we do not find that the time lines as set forth in this case justify our intervention,” the justices said in the ruling.

Ben Hartman contributed to this report.
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