Free Ouda Tarabin

The Beduin Israeli was sentenced to 15 years in an Egyptian prison for allegedly spying for Israel.

March 24, 2013 13:57
3 minute read.
Downtown Cairo.

Downtown Cairo 521. (photo credit: Wikicommons)

About a week after Gilad Schalit came home I received a phone call from Yitzhak Meltzer, Attorney at Law.

He said “I saw you on television and you impressed me so much with how you worked to free Gilad Schalit, maybe you can help to free Ouda Tarabin?” I had never heard of Yitzhak Meltzer or Ouda Tarabin, but as he began to tell me the story of Tarabin, it sounded vaguely familiar.

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Ouda Seliman Tarabin is a national of Israel. He was 10 years old when his family moved from Egypt to Israel, and was subsequently granted Israeli citizenship. I have been told that during the time that Israel controlled Sinai, Tarabin’s father probably collaborated with the Israeli security forces there. When Israel handed Sinai back to Egypt, Tarabin and his family were given Israeli citizenship and they moved to the Negev.

In September 1999, Tarabin and his mother traveled to Egypt on their Israeli passports to visit his sisters who were residing in El-Arish, Egypt. They returned to Israel at the end of their visit.

On December 2, 2000, while on another visit to Egypt, Tarabin was arrested by the local police at his sister’s home in El-Arish, allegedly for illegally crossing the border and for espionage. The arrest took place two days after he had arrived in Egypt.

Following his arrest, Tarabin was taken for interrogation by the Egyptian Military Intelligence and told that he was being sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. He was informed that his cousin had confessed to the allegation that he and his father were connected to the Israeli army. According to the information received from the source, he did not have access to a lawyer or legal assistance during his interrogation or thereafter. The source submits that the cousin had been interrogated about whom he had visited when he crossed the border into Israel. Reportedly, he responded that he had gone to visit his uncle, Tarabin’s father.

Tarabin was allegedly sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment by a military court in Sinai in March 2000. We have been informed that his prisoner card indicates that he was arrested on December 3, 2000. Therefore, it seems that he was tried and sentenced by the court, prior to his arrest. The source contends that he was not present at the trial and upon arrest he was not given the opportunity to be promptly brought before a competent tribunal. The source further reports that the Egyptian State Security Office stated that his trial took place in March 2000. At that time, Tarabin was not in Egypt; he had not received a summons from any court and he was not aware of any charges against him.

How is it possible that an Israeli citizen was in prison more than 11 years when Meltzer called me and this was not a case that every single Israeli was aware of? There has been no public campaign for his release. The Israeli government has been negotiating with Egypt for his release and has indicated that Israel is willing to free all Egyptians incarcerated in Israel. There are apparently some 83 Egyptians in Israeli prisons, almost all of them convicted for smuggling or entering Israel illegally. Several are being held on security offenses. Egypt has not accepted this offer. The Egyptians want something in addition to their own prisoners.

There is a high level of secrecy around the negotiations. There are only a few officials in Israel who know what the Egyptian demands are. Despite the fact that I have met face-to-face with the Egyptian intelligence officials responsible for this case, I have not been successful at learning what is blocking the resolution of the negotiations and the freeing of Ouda Tarabin. There have been hints given to me and I have been trying to clarify what is the truth.

I am convinced that I can help to bring Ouda Tarabin home. I believe that the resolution of this case will also be helpful in the future of Israeli-Egyptian relations. Perhaps some of the officials in Israel will read this and decide to allow me to help secure the freedom of an Israeli citizen in an Egyptian prison. Let me help to fulfill the exodus from Egypt for one more Israeli.

Gershon Baskin is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.

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