The forgotten prisoner

Everyone in Israel is very familiar with the details surrounding the prisoner exchange and release of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit. Due to the media''s fascination with all-things Gilad, the Israeli public knows everything about his capture and release, and will continue to follow his life for a long time. Schalit is already a celebrity. "EXCLUSIVE" pictures of him leaving his house or going to the beach are considered front page news in a country that generally has more important things to follow.
One of those things is the impending release of Ilan Grapel, an Israeli-American dual citizen who was arrested by Egyptian authorities in June for allegedly spying on Egypt on behalf of Israel. Israel, and US Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-NY), for whom Grapel interned for in 2002, deny he is as a spy. His supporters argue he was in Egypt working for a NGO, Saint Andrew’s Refugee Services. He arrived in Egypt at a time of immense political instability, which contributed to his arrest.
Throughout October, before the news that a deal for Schalit had been reached between Israel and Hamas, stories were surfacing that a deal was at hand for Grapel''s return to Israel in exchange for somewhere between nine and eighty-one Egyptian prisoners being held by Israel. Later reports also indicate that the Grapel deal is a part of the Schalit package, which was mediated by Egypt.
The curious thing about the Grapel saga is how much little attention it is receiving. On the surface, it makes sense that a soldier kidnapped from Israeli territory in the midst of a surprise attack by an enemy that tunneled in to an army base and killed two of his comrades is more emotionally gripping. Schalit was just nineteen years-old, looked even younger, and was doing the same military service that all Israelis must endure at the time of his kidnapping. All of these factors, plus a relentless public relations campaign led by the Schalit family, led to strong public awareness and support for his release.
Grapel''s arrest has received nowhere near the same support the Israeli public showered on Schalit, even as 1,027 prisoners and terrorists were released for him. Grapel is twenty-seven years old, was not captured during his army service on Israeli soil, and doesn''t have parents living in Israel to lobby on his behalf. But Grapel''s case should be an all-Israeli story: he decided to leave his American lifestyle after graduating for Johns Hopkins University, and was wounded while serving as a paratrooper in the 2006 Lebanon War (see 2006 Haaretz interview with Grapel). Israel is an immigrant country, and the paratroopers have a special place in Israeli military folklore, but Grapel still fails to grab headlines.
It''s hard to guess if there would be more or less public awareness and support of Grapel''s case if he was imprisoned by Egypt for five years like Schalit was for Hamas. I assume, judging by the lack of enthusiasm surrounding his upcoming release, that in five years the average Israeli would not care anymore about Grapel than they do now, probably less. However, Gilad''s story captured the hearts of Israelis from the beginning, and his family''s campaign maintained its momentum for over five years. The Schalit cause was championed by Israeli celebrities, the protest tent outside the Prime Minister''s home was always occupied, the "Gilad is still alive" bumper stickers and t-shirts were always visible throughout the country, and Schalit remained a popular cause. The Schalit family created a PR machine that could not be stopped, and the media was happy to fuel it while the Israeli public went along for the ride, culminating with 70% of the country following his release on TV last Tuesday.
When the news broke of Schalit''s upcoming release, Facebook was exploding with updates of "Is it true??", "Can''t believe the news!", and "Gilad''s finally coming home!". Today, Facebook and the Israeli public are curiously quiet for Grapel.
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